The Premier League resumes following the international break with arguably the biggest fixture the competition has to offer. Manchester City versus Liverpool is a clash between the winners of the last six league titles, even if it is 5-1 to Pep Guardiola’s mob, and it’s a duel of the top two sides in the 2023/24 table.
There is far more at stake than three precious points and north west bragging rights too. Erling Haaland will almost certainly be the top goal scorer this season – City’s Nordic goal machine is priced at 1/6 to retain his Golden Boot crown – but his only realistic rival will be involved at the Etihad on Saturday lunchtime.
Mohamed Salah is 5/1 to be top scorer and is only three goals behind Haaland. Having scored four goals in a game against Djibouti in the latest international break, what’s to stop the Egyptian King from repeating the trick here?
Quite a lot, obviously. But the individual awards don’t end there, you can also bet on who is going to be the PFA Player of the Year for 2023/24. Haaland is the market leader once again, and once again is the reigning holder of the trophy.
However, his price of 11/10 to be the POTY shows Paddy Power is far less certain about this than it is regarding his top scorer chances. Salah is second favourite once more, at 11/2, and seven of the top nine players in the betting play for these teams – this time it’s 5-2 to City.
Is there value in the market? Can anyone stop the top forward for either the Cityzens or the Reds from becoming player of the year? Let’s have a look at the history of the award and see if it can give us any clues.
Salah is one of seven players who have been acclaimed by their PFA peers on two occasions, taking home the hardware in 2017/18 and again four years later. Not only is that the widest gap between awards for the group of two-time winners, Liverpool’s number 11 would become the first man to take the prize on three occasions if he were to win in 2024.
While Haaland obviously can’t achieve that feat this season, he would become only the fourth player to retain the award if he were to be crowned in 2023/24.
Nobody managed it for the first 30 years the gong was in existence, before Thierry Henry took the honour in 2003 and 2004. He has since been followed by Cristiano Ronaldo (very obviously in his first, not second, Manchester United spell), Gareth Bale and Kevin De Bruyne.
Another 30+ goal season would likely seal the deal for Haaland, and he has another factor in his favour.
Supporters of other clubs get bored with talk of the Premier League’s Big Six, but just as those teams win most domestic trophies, so their players are normally deemed the best each season.
There has only been one man since Alan Shearer won the award for the second time in 1996/97 who was crowned while not playing for Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham or the Manchester clubs. Any guesses?
It was Riyad Mahrez for Leicester in 2015/16. It’s easy to see why he was crowned in that season, as the Foxes upset ridiculous odds to win the league.
The presence of the Algerian also highlights another aspect of the PFA Player of the Year award: it’s very hard to win unless your team finishes in the top two in the league table.
The only exception in the last decade was Salah in his first season with Liverpool, and he had to score 32 goals and assist a further 10 in the league to make a suitably large impression. Before him were Gareth Bale and Robin van Persie, in campaigns which earned them moves to Real Madrid and United respectively. Without playing for a title challenger, it takes one hell of an effort to get noticed.
This may bode well for the only players in the upper echelons of the market who don’t play for City or Liverpool. Arsenal are 4/1 second favourites to win the league ahead of the Reds (11/2) so that may mean Declan Rice (12/1) and Bukayo Saka (20/1) have a chance of individual glory?
Nationality and Position
Depending on how you read the data, the Gunners’ pair hopes may be aided by the fact they are England internationals. Eighteen past winners have come from the home of the Premier League when no other country has provided more than six.
However, Wayne Rooney was the last English winner, back in 2009/10, and he had the advantage of being a forward. While non-attackers have been made POTY in recent times, Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante was a back-to-back title winner in 2017 while Virgil van Dijk was the best defender in the world two years later.
Exclude that pair and the ten most recent winners have averaged 33 Premier League goal contributions in the season in which they were crowned. It’s a high bar and while Harry Kane would be in the mix if he was still at Tottenham, history shows why the market favours Haaland and Salah.
If it’s not to be either of the league’s likely top two scorers but it probably needs to be someone who plays for either City or Liverpool then there’s a clear candidate.
Rodri is 8/1 third favourite to become Player of the Year and he makes a very compelling case. He scored the goal which secured both the Champions League and the Treble earlier this year – with votes for the 2023 award cast before that – and his influence is only growing.
With Rodri in the team, City have won 12 and drawn three of their 15 matches this season. But when he was suspended? Three defeats out of three. That’s the sort of record that gets picked up by the media and noticed by players who crown their POTY.
If Haaland scores another bajillion goals, he’ll likely retain the award. Rodri is worth considering at his price though.
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