PFA Player of the Year – Virgil van Dijk or Raheem Sterling? BBC pundits’ verdict

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The six-man shortlist for the Professional Footballers’ Association Player of the Year award will be revealed on Football Focus at 12:15 BST on Saturday.

Voting is over, but who should be on the list, and who will follow Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah by taking the top prize?

It appears there are only two contenders among our BBC football pundits…

Twenty-one pundits – Alan Shearer, Ian Wright, Alex Scott, Paul Ince, Phil Neville, Jermaine Jenas, Rachel Brown-Finnis, Stephen Warnock, Chris Sutton, Pat Nevin, Danny Mills, Mark Lawrenson, Martin Keown, Danny Murphy, Chris Waddle, Leon Osman, Sue Smith, Joleon Lescott, Mark Schwarzer, Matthew Upson and Kevin Kilbane have chosen their six outstanding performers of 2018-19.

Two votes: Abdoulaye Doucoure, Fernandinho, Harry Kane, Paul Pogba, Mohamed Salah

One vote: Willy Boly, David Brooks, Ederson, Ben Foster, Ryan Fraser, Raul Jimenez, Aymeric Laporte, Joao Moutinho, Ruben Neves, Aaron Wan-Bissaka

Twenty-three players from nine different clubs feature in their shortlist selections – however, only Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk and Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling are picked as winners.

Scroll down to see the pundits’ verdict.

Vote for your own choice from the below shortlist, comprised of the players who received the most pundit nominations.

Alan Shearer: Virgil van Dijk (Van Dijk 1-0 Sterling)

Shearer’s shortlist
Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool) Raheem Sterling (Man City)
Sergio Aguero (Man City) Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
Bernardo Silva (Man City) Eden Hazard (Chelsea)

How on earth you cannot get votes in from players for this award at the end of the season is pretty pathetic, really. Players should not be voting more than a month before the season finishes.

Whose team wins what is a massive factor in who should collect these individual accolades, and we are still waiting to find out.

The title race is between Liverpool and Manchester City and the player of the year award is between Van Dijk and Sterling – one of those two will definitely win it.

Here and now, I am giving it to Van Dijk, on the basis he has transformed Liverpool defensively and given them the backbone they need to go the distance in the title race.

With 20 goals conceded in 34 games, Liverpool have the best defensive record in the Premier League this season

Defensively they have been so much more solid than they have been in recent seasons. In goal, Alisson has improved them too, but Van Dijk has been the big difference.

He has just been a rock for them – a real man-mountain at the back with his organisation, presence and reading of the game.

In games or situations where Liverpool have been under pressure, he has really stood out, because he has been so dominant – whatever the scenario, and whoever he is up against.

But if City win a domestic treble this season then one of their players should be player of the year.

There are a few candidates but Sterling gets my vote because he has been so important for them right through the season.

With 17 goals and nine assists, Sterling has been involved in 26 Premier League goals this season, the same number as Sergio Aguero (19 goals and seven assists)

He has become one of their most reliable and regular players. Every other outfield player seems to get rested more than him, right through the City team, which says a lot about how important he is to them.

I’ve been impressed by Sterling’s character and the way he has dealt with difficult situations on and off the pitch, and he continues to improve as a player too.

His scoring record is an example of how he has progressed. He is getting into the right positions more and more often, and his finishing keeps getting better too.

Ian Wright: Virgil van Dijk (Van Dijk 2-0 Sterling)

Wright’s shortlist
Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool) Raheem Sterling (Man City)
Sergio Aguero (Man City) Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
Ryan Fraser (Bournemouth) Eden Hazard (Chelsea)

Like Al, I think this award should be decided at the end of the season, when we know who has won what.

I’m giving it to Van Dijk right now, but that would change if City win the title – Sterling would be my winner then.

Alex Scott: Raheem Sterling (Van Dijk 2-1 Sterling)

Scott’s shortlist
Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool) Raheem Sterling (Man City)
Sergio Aguero (Man City) Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
Andrew Robertson (Liverpool) Eden Hazard (Chelsea)

Raheem’s goals, and the intelligence of his runs to get them, have really stood out.

He just keeps on getting better and better as a player – and for him to do that while dealing with and speaking out about the racist abuse he has received this season in the Premier League and on international duty for England, shows how he has matured as a person too.

Andy Robertson talks about his early days at Celtic and Queen’s Park

I don’t see him winning the overall award, but Liverpool left-back Andrew Robertson definitely deserves a mention too, because of his consistency since he broke into their team, and how much he brings to their attack as well as their defence.

Paul Ince: Raheem Sterling (Van Dijk 2-2 Sterling)

Ince’s shortlist
Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool) Raheem Sterling (Man City)
Sergio Aguero (Man City) Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
Abdoulaye Doucoure (Watford) Willy Boly (Wolves)

I have found it strange for a number of years now that Sergio Aguero has never won this award. He is one of the greatest strikers we have ever seen in the Premier League.

There are two other people ahead of him this season, though. Van Dijk is a true leader, and he just cruises through games. He is a world-class centre-half.

But I am going to give it to Sterling, who has had a lot of rubbish written about him in the past. England fans turned on him not so long ago and he gets a lot of stick from opposition supporters too, but he has handled himself superbly and spoken out about it so well.

To come through all of that and still play the way he has been, takes a lot of mental strength.

It is not just about the goals he has scored, it is his all-round play. He has developed into a match-winner but he has become City’s main man in lots of ways.

There are a few Wolves players who have impressed me – Raul Jimenez has started scoring goals, Conor Coady has been superb for someone who was naturally a centre-midfield player, spent last season in the Championship at right-back and is now playing centre-half.

Coady has done ever so well, but I am going to include Willy Boly, who has been outstanding alongside him all season.

Would I lie to you? Wolves’ Doherty & Coady compete for Wright’s old shirt

Son Heung-min has been outstanding again for Tottenham, but it is easy sometimes just to pick the players who score lots of goals. Watford have had a fantastic season and are into the FA Cup final, and Abdoulaye Doucoure has played a big part in their success.

Doucoure reminds me of when I played against Patrick Vieira. He is a powerful runner, is strong, and gets you goals too. I can see why bigger clubs are interested in him, and I think he could still improve further as a player.

Philip Neville: Virgil van Dijk (Van Dijk 3-2 Sterling)

Neville’s shortlist
Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool) Raheem Sterling (Man City)
Sergio Aguero (Man City) Bernardo Silva (Man City)
Andy Robertson (Liverpool) Paul Pogba (Man Utd)

Jermaine Jenas: Raheem Sterling (Van Dijk 3-3 Sterling)

Jenas’ shortlist
Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool) Raheem Sterling (Man City)
Sergio Aguero (Man City) Bernardo Silva (Man City)
Son Heung-min (Tottenham) Ben Foster (Watford)

You cannot dismiss what Van Dijk has done for Liverpool because of how much he has elevated them, but I also think it is a lot harder to shine as an attacking player for City than it is to shine as a defender for Liverpool.

Virgil came into a struggling defensive unit, and as a good player. he was always going to improve it.

In contrast, Raheem is playing with some of the best attacking players in the world, and he is still standing out.

Also, if he is not number one on the team sheet, he is number two behind Sergio. He is developing into a leader, which makes him even more important to the team.

Rachel Brown-Finnis: Virgil van Dijk (Van Dijk 4-3 Sterling)

Brown-Finnis’ shortlist
Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool) Raheem Sterling (Man City)
David Brooks (Bournemouth) Ederson (Man City)
Mo Salah (Liverpool) Eden Hazard (Chelsea)

Van Dijk has given Liverpool the authority they have been missing at the back for a long, long time.

Behind him, Reds keeper Alisson has also improved them, but City keeper Ederson edges him out of my six as things stand because of the way he starts attacks. He is perfect for the way his side play.

David Brooks joined Bournemouth from Sheffield United last summer for a fee of £10m. The 21-year-old Wales forward has scored seven goals and made five assists in 28 appearances during his first season in the top flight

I want Bournemouth’s David Brooks in there because he is so exciting to watch. He has got flair but is willing to graft too – he is one of Sterling’s main rivals for the Young Player award.

Stephen Warnock: Virgil van Dijk (Van Dijk 5-3 Sterling)

Warnock’s shortlist
Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool) Raheem Sterling (Man City)
Sergio Aguero (Man City) Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
Bernardo Silva (Man City) Raul Jimenez (Wolves)

For Van Dijk to have a season where no-one has dribbled past him is just unbelievable.

I know that on its own does not make you the best player in the Premier League but it shows how good a defender he is. It is an incredible statistic.

Virgil van Dijk describes working as a dish washer

As good as Sterling has been, I would actually have Bernardo Silva and Aguero in front of him in terms of their importance for City.

I like quite a few Wolves players too but Raul Jimenez has been unreal. In the first half of the season he was getting in positions but not finishing the chances, but that all changed after Christmas.

Chris Sutton: Virgil van Dijk (Van Dijk 6-3 Sterling)

Sutton’s shortlist
Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool) Raheem Sterling (Man City)
Sergio Aguero (Man City) Bernardo Silva (Man City)
Andy Robertson (Liverpool) Harry Kane (Tottenham)

Liverpool have not had the same firepower as they did last season so for them to still be in the title race is largely down to Van Dijk’s influence.

Historically, when one player turns a team into title contenders, it is usually an attacker – like Eric Cantona at Manchester United for example.

Van Dijk has had the same kind of impact, by making Liverpool statistically into the best defence in the Premier League.

I don’t think many people realised how good he was when he was at Celtic. They do now.

This might sound like I am saying “I told you so” but he had all the attributes then in terms of his passing and his defending. There is no doubt he has developed, but he was always a top-quality defender, and so graceful that he is lovely to watch.

Pat Nevin: Virgil van Dijk (Van Dijk 7-3 Sterling)

Nevin’s shortlist
Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool) Raheem Sterling (Man City)
Fernandinho (Man City) Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
Andy Robertson (Liverpool) Eden Hazard (Chelsea)

Van Dijk has done all the things I thought he was going to do five years ago when he was at Celtic. I spoke to a lot of people about him and was just really surprised that none of the big six clubs took him before Southampton did in 2015 because it was so obvious, he is just a Rolls Royce.

Van Dijk on his aims and aspirations at Liverpool

His positional sense is just brilliant – he has got unbelievable pace which he rarely has to use, and he is always in the right place for crosses.

He has been brilliant but I suspect that he will be better next season – he can score from free-kicks and get more goals with his head too.

Danny Mills: Raheem Sterling (Van Dijk 7-4 Sterling)

Mills’ shortlist
Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool) Raheem Sterling (Man City)
Sergio Aguero (Man City) Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
Paul Pogba (Man Utd) Eden Hazard (Chelsea)

Now, when Sterling goes through, you feel that he is going to score more often than not, and that wasn’t the same even last season.

It is great to see him speaking out about serious issues like racist abuse too. He has grown up and with his England performances as well I just think he has been brilliant.

Raheem Sterling was one of the England players to suffered racial abuse in England’s 5-1 win in Montenegro and responded with this tweet

Paul Pogba has had a strange season in many ways, and has come in for a lot of criticism, but I still think he has done very well.

Under Jose Mourinho and now Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, he has been getting goals and making assists. It did not look like he got on with Mourinho but he still performed and when Solskjaer took charge, he looked even better still.

How ‘brilliant’ Pogba inspired Man Utd’s win at Chelsea

Mark Lawrenson: Virgil van Dijk (Van Dijk 8-4 Sterling)

Lawro’s shortlist
Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool) Raheem Sterling (Man City)
Sergio Aguero (Man City) Bernardo Silva (Man City)
Andy Robertson (Liverpool) Sadio Mane (Liverpool)

It is no wonder that the top two teams are so far ahead in every way, because they have had the stand-out individuals too.

We know about Van Dijk’s ability and his leadership but the most impressive thing is that he has played with a succession of different centre-back partners this season: Dejan Lovren, Joe Gomez, Joel Matip and even Fabinho.

Has it affected the team? No, because it is all about him. Honestly, he is so good, he is at that moment where John Terry and Tony Adams were at their peak – where you can play anybody with them and it doesn’t make any difference whatsoever.

Martin Keown: Virgil van Dijk (Van Dijk 9-4 Sterling)

Keown’s shortlist
Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool) Raheem Sterling (Man City)
Sergio Aguero (Man City) Bernardo Silva (Man City)
Sadio Mane (Liverpool) Eden Hazard (Chelsea)

I just think it is time for people to be reminded how important defending is, and Van Dijk is the one – he is the top defender.

He is just class, isn’t he? He purrs around the pitch, in possession or out of possession, he is a mountain in the air and has taken on the responsibility, at this time in his career to try to lead Liverpool to the title.

Van Dijk & Gomez could be among best ever – Keown

That’s because he wants to be a winner. I am just glad he didn’t go to City, because he could have gone there and we wouldn’t have had a brilliant title race like this one if he had.

Danny Murphy: Virgil van Dijk (Van Dijk 10-4 Sterling)

Murphy’s shortlist
Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool) Raheem Sterling (Man City)
Sergio Aguero (Man City) Joao Moutinho (Wolves)
Sadio Mane (Liverpool) Eden Hazard (Chelsea)

Salah has got one more goal than Mane this season, but I think Mane has been better than him.

I think it is good to recognise players from outside the top six, and as a former midfielder myself I am a big fan of Joao Moutinho. Wolves have had a great season and for an older guy to come to the Premier League at 32 with his kind of hunger and blossom like he has, is great to see.

Van Dijk and Sterling have both been great but Van Dijk has had more of an influence on the players around him, because the whole Liverpool team is better when he is there, while you could argue that City’s other attacking players would still be as good whether Sterling is playing or not.

Chris Waddle: Virgil van Dijk (Van Dijk 11-4 Sterling)

Waddle’s shortlist
Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool) Raheem Sterling (Man City)
Bernardo Silva (Man City) Son Heung-min (Tottenham)
Andy Robertson (Liverpool) Sadio Mane (Liverpool)

Son Heung-min has been a revelation. He has gone away for two spells on international duty this season but he has still stepped up to help Spurs cope without Harry Kane and Dele Alli and has been their stand-out player.

His numbers stack up in terms of the quantity of his goals but he has made such a big impact on important games too, like Tottenham’s Champions League quarter-final win over Manchester City.

The Squad: Is Son Heung-min Tottenham’s player of the season?

Son’s energy levels are great, his movement is superb and technically he is very strong – all round he is a great team player who can score and create.

At City, I love Bernardo Silva’s left foot – like Son, he has been a big influence on how City play – and Sadio Mane has added real bite to the left-hand side of Liverpool’s attack.

Mane gets at people, can cross with either foot and he is getting more goals now too. In the past it felt like he didn’t score or create enough but he has put it all together this season.

I usually like to see creative players win these awards, but you just have to recognise how good Van Dijk has been. I will be shocked if he doesn’t win it.

Leon Osman: Raheem Sterling (Van Dijk 11-5 Sterling)

Osman’s shortlist
Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool) Raheem Sterling (Man City)
Sergio Aguero (Man City) Son Heung-min (Tottenham)
Eden Hazard (Chelsea) Sadio Mane (Liverpool)

Kevin de Bruyne’s injuries have meant City have missed their most influential player from last season for most of this term and yet they haven’t missed a beat.

They competed for an unprecedented quadruple until the middle of April, and that was largely down to Sterling. I wondered who, if anyone, would step up and no-one has done more so than this man.

Raheem Sterling: Manchester City star gives old school 500 tickets for FA Cup semi-final

If City go on to win a domestic treble then he would be an absolute no-brainer as player of the year, but if Liverpool were to pip them to the post in the Premier League and Champions League, then Van Dijk gets the nod.

Sue Smith: Raheem Sterling (Van Dijk 11-6 Sterling)

Smith’s shortlist
Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool) Raheem Sterling (Man City)
Aaron Wan Bissaka (Crystal Palace) Son Heung-min (Tottenham)
Ruben Neves (Wolves) Abdoulaye Doucoure (Watford)

If I could have Van Dijk and Sterling as joint top I would – both have been outstanding and massively helped their clubs get where they are today.

I’ll go for Sterling, though, because his goals and creativity have been vital for City.

Joleon Lescott: Raheem Sterling (Van Dijk 11-7 Sterling)

Lescott’s shortlist
Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool) Raheem Sterling (Man City)
Sergio Aguero (Man City) Son Heung-min (Tottenham)
Eden Hazard (Chelsea) Aymeric Laporte (Man City)

What people forget about Raheem is that he was at the World Cup with England and did not really have a summer. Then he came back and played in City’s first game of the season, when other players were being rested.

It feels like everyone else gets left out for City at some point but, in every important game, he plays.

Mark Schwarzer: Virgil van Dijk (Van Dijk 12-7 Sterling)

Schwarzer’s shortlist
Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool) Raheem Sterling (Man City)
Sergio Aguero (Man City) Son Heung-min (Tottenham)
Eden Hazard (Chelsea) Andy Robertson (Liverpool)

As a goalkeeper I would have loved to have had Van Dijk playing in front of me. On the ball he is great, but he reads the game so well and doesn’t ball watch.

All of the players I have picked have a big influence on their team, but especially Eden Hazard for Chelsea.

He is obviously going to be a huge loss if he leaves during the summer, and I would actually be very surprised if he ends up staying.

With 16 goals and 12 assists, Hazard has been involved in more Premier League goals than any other player this season

Hazard is 28 now and if he is going to leave, now is the time. If he does join Real Madrid then he has dealt with the situation very well because his performances this season will mean no Chelsea fan will begrudge him going.

Of course they would be disappointed to see him leave but they will surely understand why he wants to join a club like Real.

Many a player thinking of a summer move would have eased up but not Eden, he has put a shift in this season, and that will gain him the respect of Blues fans.

Matthew Upson: Virgil van Dijk (Van Dijk 13-7 Sterling)

Upson’s shortlist
Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool) Raheem Sterling (Man City)
Bernardo Silva (Man City) Son Heung-min (Tottenham)
Fernandinho (Man City) Sadio Mane (Liverpool)

It does not seem to matter how well Van Dijk is playing personally, his stature and composure always seems to enhance the Liverpool team.

He has got a physical side to his game, but it is that body language and presence that really gives him his star quality.

Kevin Kilbane: Virgil van Dijk (Van Dijk 14-7 Sterling)

Kilbane’s shortlist
Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool) Raheem Sterling (Man City)
Sergio Aguero (Man City) Harry Kane (Tottenham)
Eden Hazard (Chelsea) Mo Salah (Liverpool)

Salah ran away with the player of the year award last year and I don’t think he has had a bad season just because he hasn’t matched that goal tally this time.

He edges Mane for me because although Mane had a very good spell around the turn of the year, Salah has contributed right through the season.

Van Dijk is still Liverpool’s most important player, though. Take him out of their side and they would not be in the position they are in. I make him the single most influential player in the Premier League this season, and he is so consistent – he gets at least 8/10 every week.

And the winner is…. Virgil van Dijk

Will the Premier League players agree with our pundits though? Find out when the winner is announced at the PFA Awards on Sunday, 28 April



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