Power Ranking the PFA Player of the Year Shortlist: Can Anyone Stop Luis Suarez?
On Friday, the Professional Footballers' Association announced its six-man shortlist for this season's Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year awards.
In this piece, we take a look at the shortlist for the Player of the Year award, arguably the most prestigious of its kind in English football. Previous winners include Thierry Henry, Cristiano Ronaldo and Alan Shearer.
Who has the best chance of following in those illustrious footsteps? Here we break down the contenders, from outsiders to the firm favourite for the award.
Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
If Jose Mourinho really is right when it comes to his constant assertions about his lack of clinical strikers at Chelsea, then that has put a real pressure on his attacking midfielders over the course of the season.
The likes of Willian, Andre Schurrle and Oscar have all come up big on occasion, but it is Eden Hazard who has been the most consistent threat for Mourinho, earning the Portuguese's trust in the process.
The Belgian's record of 14 goals and seven assists does not compare with some of the other nominees, but this is an award voted for by the players, and the players will all know that Hazard is a danger every single time he gets on the ball.
That is a rare quality and, when coupled with a defensive diligence that has improved considerably since he first arrived at the club, is perhaps how he finds himself among the six players vying for the Player of the Year award.
"Eden can become one of the best players in the world," Mourinho told the London Evening Standard in January. "Now he sees his football and profession with different eyes ... Everyone knows he is a talented player, that he was that when he arrived here. But now he is trying to go to a different level, we are helping him and he is doing it step by step.
"Hopefully, the big talent can transform himself into the big player."
Hazard is one of two players on this list also nominated for the young players' award.
Verdict: Nomination warranted, but he will not win
Adam Lallana (Southampton)
Perhaps no player has enjoyed a season where his reputation has grown so much as Adam Lallana, although perhaps it is not just his performances that have seen him receive a nomination over other players with similar cases—for example, Chelsea's Gary Cahill or Everton's Seamus Coleman or Leighton Baines.
That is not to take anything from Lallana, just to note that he has perhaps been helped by the fact he is the playmaker for the "in fashion" team of the season, Southampton, and his breakthrough at international level for England brought him into newspapers and minds around the country just as players were completing their voting slips.
Even putting that to one side, however, Lallana warrants his place among such vaunted company. A record of nine goals and six assists this season barely does justice to the influence he has had over the Saints, driving them creatively as they have settled into a comfortable top-10 position all season.
With the club from his teenage years, Lallana has blossomed this season and is now being spoken about as a potential signing for one of the big clubs in the country.
This nomination, along with a likely World Cup visit in the summer, will be further reward for his cultured displays.
"We haven’t seen a player like that in this country for a long time," his manager, Mauricio Pochettino, told reporters (via the Daily Mail) last month. "I am always telling him that he has the characteristics of a Spanish player and he has the skills of a Iniesta, Xavi or Fabregas."
Verdict: Won't win but nomination a deserved reward
Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool)
It's a measure of Liverpool's campaign and the attacking verve with which they have gone about it that their players make up half of the total PFA shortlist.
Daniel Sturridge is the third name included and, for reasons not necessarily solely related to performances, is surely the least likely to walk away with the gong in the end. Nevertheless, it has been a breakthrough season for the 24-year-old who has established himself at international level while scoring 20 goals (and adding a further seven assists) for his club side.
A run of eight successive games with at least one goal between November and February probably played well with voters (especially as ballots were submitted shortly after), although it remains difficult to see how he could possibly accrue more votes overall than his teammate, Luis Suarez, who has perhaps been more pivotal to his side overall.
Nevertheless, Sturridge has had a deeply impressive campaign, and his inclusion on this shortlist is a fitting mark of the step up he has made. He may well walk away with the young players' award for which he is also nominated.
"He's a natural goalscorer, with great pace," Rodgers told reporters earlier this year. "He just looks like he can score every game, he's got that ability, that quality."
Verdict: Strong season but surely won't pick up more votes than Suarez
Yaya Toure (Manchester City)
If there is one non-Liverpool player who may arguably challenge for victory, it is Manchester City's talisman, Yaya Toure.
A few things work in his favour: primarily that voting for these awards takes place in February or March, when City (and Chelsea) perhaps looked more likely to win the title than Liverpool, and during a period when Toure was really hitting top gear.
The midfielder has scored a deeply impressive 18 goals this season (third in the league at the time of writing), contributing a further five assists. Per Opta statistics, no player has attempted and completed more passes than the Ivorian this season, underlining his importance at the heart of everything Manchester City attempt to achieve.
“If he wasn’t African everyone will say he’s the best midfielder in the world,” teammate Samir Nasri said (via The Telegraph) following February's Capital One Cup victory.
"He can do everything, he can score goals, he can defend, he can attack.
"Tell me one defensive midfielder who can go forward like him who can score 16 or 17 goals in a season?"
Verdict: A decent chance if the Liverpool vote gets split
Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)
If voting for the PFA prizes took place now rather than a number of weeks ago, then perhaps Steven Gerrard would be the favourite for the award.
On the verge of the first Premier League title of his career, the 33-year-old's story is the romantic's favourite—and would no doubt have earned him a number of extra votes among his contemporaries.
Lest we forget, Ryan Giggs walked away with the prize in 2009, seemingly more for his overall contribution to the game than his particular efforts that season.
Not that such votes would be without merit, however. The skipper has led by example all season, quickly adapting to a new role at the base of Liverpool's midfield and contributing crucial penalty kicks at key points in the season.
Thirteen goals and 10 assists give a straightforward indication of Gerrard's importance to his side, but he has contributed so much more all season as the defensive fulcrum and attacking instigator.
Suarez might just edge him in the final reckoning (or, in a worst-case scenario, the two Liverpool men might divide votes from one another and let another candidate slip in), but Gerrard would be a worthy winner in almost any other season.
“His legs are not going to be what they were five or six years ago—but his presence and leadership are invaluable for Liverpool," no less a judge than Zinedine Zidane said (via the Daily Mail) this week. “He has had a great career winning many things—but it would be a big shame for him if he was never to win the league with Liverpool.
"For everything that he has given he deserves a league title.”
Verdict: Sentimental vote gives him outside shot
Luis Suarez (Liverpool)
Luis Suarez is the runaway favourite to win every player of the year award going this season, and it is very difficult to believe (and would be even harder to justify) that he will not walk away with the PFA's main gong.
After sitting out the first five league games of the season due to suspension, Suarez has been almost unstoppable ever since, amassing 29 goals in 29 games and laying on a further 12 assists for his side, terrifying almost every defence he has seen in the process.
For some, the Uruguayan is the primary reason Liverpool find themselves top of the table so close to the end of the season. The Player of the Year award is not a "Most Valuable Player" assessment as is so popular in American sports, but even on that criteria he would probably win by a comfortable margin.
The reigning PFA player of the year, Gareth Bale, finished last season with 21 goals and four assists for Tottenham, which earned him a world-record move to Real Madrid.
Even that record pales in comparison to Suarez; by any measure, the 27-year-old seems on course to win this award.
"He is a remarkable player," Suarez's manager, Brendan Rodgers, told reporters last month. "His determination and his desire is at such a high level. He gets his rewards."
Like Bale, might a Madrid move also soon be on the horizon?
Verdict: Almost certain to win the award