De Bruyne and Alexander Arnold, standard-bearers of their craft – PFA award winners´ seasons in Opta


Kevin De Bruyne and Trent Alexander-Arnold were the unsurprising recipients of the coveted Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) awards on Tuesday after truly sensational campaigns.

Manchester City star De Bruyne took home the main award as the PFA’s Player of the Year, while Alexander-Arnold – a mainstay for champions Liverpool – claimed the Young Player of the Year award.

While Alexander-Arnold was in the running for both gongs, the main prize generally looked likely to be between De Bruyne and Jordan Henderson, Liverpool’s captain and winner of the Football Writers’ Association’s (FWA) Football of the Year award.

Although De Bruyne and City finished 18 points adrift of Liverpool in the table, the Belgian’s individual efforts were remarkable, while Alexander-Arnold – for a second successive season – staked his claim to be regarded the best right-back in world football.

To understand just how effective they were, we used Opta data to look back at their respective seasons.

  @PFA PLAYERS’ PLAYER OF THE YEAR 

  #PFAawards #POTY
  #ManCity | https://t.co/axa0klD5re pic.twitter.com/8NOlgAesAs

— Manchester City (@ManCity) September 8, 2020

KEVIN DE BRUYNE – PFA PLAYER OF THE YEAR

In many ways, 2019-20 will have been somewhat bittersweet for De Bruyne. An injury-hit 2018-19 saw him miss out on a large chunk of City’s Premier League title triumph, but he could not help them retain their crown despite marking himself out as a standard-bearer for the league.

De Bruyne’s injuries in 2018-19 contributed to him getting just four goal involvements in 19 Premier League matches. It would not be unfair to suggest there were some people watching to see if he could re-find his best form again afterwards.

But with 13 goals and 20 assists, a joint Premier League record with Thierry Henry, he emphatically proved his class is permanent.

De Bruyne was by far the most creative player in the league, laying on 136 chances for team-mates, 45 more than his nearest challenger, Jack Grealish.

On average, he produced 4.4 key passes per match, with 3.4 coming from open play. His passing accuracy may have dropped from 83.7 per cent to 81.5, but the fact he created more chances every 90 minutes suggests the types of pass he was generally making in 2019-20 were trickier to pull off.

His 104 chances created in open play is the highest figure of any player in Europe’s top five leagues since at least 2006-07, highlighting just how devastating De Bruyne was.

While the Belgium star is obviously a threat wherever he has the ball in the final third, he’s seemingly at his most deadly when operating towards the right, as evidenced by open play passes mapping.

De Bruyne’s technique makes his crossing ability appear virtually unparalleled, with his braces of assists at home to Tottenham and Watford early in the season prime examples.

But it’s arguable he doesn’t get enough credit for his goal-scoring ability, such is the emphasis on his passing and crossing.

With 13 goals from 99 shots, 3.2 per 90 minutes, De Bruyne converted 18.6 per cent of his chances – only four midfielder who tried more than 50 attempts had greater accuracy, though they all tested their luck significantly less frequently.

After Pep Guardiola’s endured repeated problems with penalties, De Bruyne also emerged as their first choice from the spot. Four from four in all competitions since February looks like a case of problem solved.

City’s talisman took it up a notch in 2019-20, proving he’s the ultimate attacking midfielder.

 

TRENT ALEXANDER-ARNOLD – PFA YOUNG PLAYER OF THE YEAR

From the ultimate attacking midfielder to the ultimate right-back? There are certainly many who believe Alexander-Arnold to be just that.

The 21-year-old became the first Liverpool player to win the PFA’s award for the best young player since Steven Gerrard in 2001, and it’s easy to see why.

He may not have the dazzling footwork of a prime Dani Alves, but he definitely appears to have similar creative instincts.

After De Bruyne and Grealish, Alexander-Arnold’s 87 key passes was the third-highest in the Premier League and a massive 39 increase on his record from 2018-19.

Curiously, Alexander Arnold only laid on one more assist than the 12 he managed the year before despite almost doubling his creative output – though that can perhaps be partly explained by Liverpool’s conversion rate dropping slightly in 2019-20 (from 20.51 per cent to 19.86).

Also, Alexander Arnold became a regular set-piece taker in 2019-20, with his seven assists from such situations second only to Christopher Trimmel in Europe’s top five leagues.

Either way, Alexander-Arnold was producing the goods, his chances created per 90 minutes increasing to 2.5 from 1.8, while passes/crosses into the box went from 9.6 in 2018-19 to 14.4 last term – that’s even more than De Bruyne.

One might interpret the fact his tackling frequency dropped to 1.6 per game from 2.2 as a consequence of his greater responsibility in attack, but at the end of the day, Liverpool’s record of 33 goals conceded was the best in a competition they won at a canter.

So, while there are those who insist a defender’s “first job is to defend”, Alexander-Arnold highlights that, in a team challenging for the title, it’s certainly arguable that a full-back’s attacking output is as – if not more – important.

Alexander-Arnold, having set a new record for assists by a defender in each of the past two seasons, is setting a standard rarely – if ever – seen before among full-backs in the Premier League, and he’s only 21.

The 2020 PFA Premier League Team of the Year! #TOTY #PFAawards @Popey1992 @trentaa98 @VirgilvDijk @Syncaglar @andrewrobertso5 @21LVA @JHenderson @DeBruyneKev @vardy7 @Aubameyang7 pic.twitter.com/uLchyBRPFq

— Professional Footballers’ Association (@PFA) September 8, 2020

 





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