Paul Higham, Tom Carnduff, George Pitts and Dale Tempest discuss the best of the action from 2019 in football and dish out our annual Christmas football awards.
These awards are for the calendar year of 2019 and, as always, let us know your thoughts on our selections by contacting us on Twitter & Facebook.
Team of the Year
Unanimous! It's not often we all agree, but after this year it has to be Jurgen Klopp’s red army doesn’t it? Yes, they ultimately failed to end their long title drought, but going toe-to-toe with Pep Guardiola’s Man City created an epic title race and they forced one of the best ever Premier League teams to win 14 games in a row to just nab the title by a point!
They compensated by winning the Champions League after THAT epic comeback against Barcelona in the semi-final and have then showed massive resilience to recover from last year’s title disappointment with a jaw-dropping start to this Premier League season.
They lost ONE game in the league all last season, and in 2019 alone they gathered 92 points from 35 Premier League games pre-Christmas – six more points than Man City won from the same number and a whopping 29 more than next-best Leicester. They are such a strong, powerful outfit, a joy to watch and just don’t look like losing. They’ve got to be the team of 2019.
- Honourable mention to Sheffield United
Just a word here (more later) for the Blades who have baffled us all by how well they have performed in 2019 - firstly just to get into the Premier League itself which was a massive achievement, but also then to more than hold their own and challenge for the top six after half of the season.
In our pre-season Premier League Podcast we tipped the Blades to stay up and we don't see them going away anytime soon either...
Manager of the Year
- Chris Wilder
Hang on, it's getting a bit weird now as all four of us agree that Wilder is the man for this one....
It’s too easy to say Guardiola or Klopp so we’ve gone for a man who gets real value for money and for us is the pound-for-pound management king.
The thinking here is that while Klopp and Guardiola won all the trophies in brilliant fashion, that is exactly what they should be doing given the resources and expenditure of the two teams.
They have wonderful squads packed with quality at every turn.
Wilder, by contrast, has performed minor miracles at Bramall Lane by taking his hometown club from Sky Bet League One to the Premier League in just three seasons in charge. He’s now doing even better, with the Blades more than holding their own in the top flight and knocking on the door of the top six.
And it’s not just the achievements, it’s the style in which these have been achieved.
Yes, the team work hard for each other but the now famous overlapping centre half tactic has taken plenty of top teams by surprise.
Everyone seems to know their jobs and Wilder’s plans seem top notch, with a change of in-game approach whether they are winning, drawing or losing.
With what he’s had to work with, he’s been the stand-out star of 2019.
LISTEN: Our Christmas special
Player of the Year
- Virgil van Dijk (Pitts & Tempest)
George Pitts and Dale Tempest both had no hesitation in plumping for the Liverpool defender, who has become a giant in Klopp's side ever since he arrived from Southampton for a massive fee in January 2018. He made an immediate impact and transformed a so-so defence into probably the best in the 2018/19 season, as well as steering them to another Champions League final - and this time glory.
He was man of the match in that final win over Spurs and he has everything you could ever need in a centre back, combining size, speed and skill to be undoubtedly the world's best defender right now. He's also mixing it with Messi and Ronaldo for individual honours in Europe, which is just another sign of his greatness.
- Sadio Mane (Paul Higham)
Another Liverpool man but we're heading into their famed front three for the next pick, where Mane has shown huge improvement in 2019 to become Liverpool’s top attacking threat - which in itself is saying something.
It’s not just his goals, it’s his energy, enthusiasm and work ethic, but that combines with quality and technique that is still underrated as well.
Some of the finishes he’s produced, and the passes for assists he’s provided, have been brilliant and of the highest order quality-wise.
Oh, and he’s also a humble and charitable man, building schools, mosques and even sports stadia back home in Senegal, while also giving generously to those in poverty where he grew up, saying: “I do not need to display luxury cars, luxury homes, trips and even planes. I prefer that my people receive a little of what life has given me.”
What a guy!
- Trent Alexander-Arnold (Tom Carnduff)
It's a Liverpool hat-trick!
The young right back get the vote thanks to his ability and his football intelligence even at a young age. His cross-field balls, a lot of them to fellow full-back Andy Robertson, are a joy to behold and his delivery from out on the right have seen him pile up assists at record numbers.
Still just 21 years old, he is rarely fazed and has even proved to be a set piece specialist - scoring a couple of free-kicks and taking corners, most memorably with his quick-thinking set-piece that won the second leg against Barcelona.
The England international is now a real star of this team.
Moment of the year
- Vincent Kompany (Tom Carnduff)
It may not have technically won them the title, as City had to also win at Brighton, but the way their skipper came to their rescue when they were struggling to break down Leicester at the Etihad was a really special moment.
For Kompany, of all people, to unleash a 30-yard thunderbolt was just incredible and that was the real moment City clinched the title. In his final home match for the club too.
- City get over the line (Dale Tempest)
It's more like two moments but they act as one, namely the two pieces of goal line technology that basically gave City the title.
Firstly against Liverpool when the ball just failed to get over the line by a centimetre or so, and again when they got a goal at Burnley by the narrowest of margins.
A title has never been won on such slender margins, and this has perhaps been overlooked in this new era of technology in football - but imagine if the cameras hadn't been there and one was given and the other not!
- VAR drama at Man City v Spurs (Paul Higham)
The fact that the end of the game overshadowed a beginning that saw four goals in the first 11 minutes illustrates the impact that Raheem Sterling’s stoppage time winner being ruled out by VAR had, not just on this game but THE game as a whole.
Delirium among City fans turned to confusion, which then turned into bemusement and ultimately anger as Spurs fans celebrated down the other end when the TV officials got involved. This was the “Agueroooooo” moment in reverse.
It was enthralling, quite confusing, but must-watch viewing – while also an early sign that football was about to change forever.
- Spurs stun Ajax (George Pitts)
What a way for Tottenham to make their way into a surprise Champions League final appearance as they somehow managed to beat Ajax with almost the very last kick of the game.
The polar opposite in Spurs players running around wildly and Ajax lying on the floor in utter dejection just illustrates what a momentous moment it was.
Lucas Moura's magic. Scenes, as the youths say.
Bold prediction for 2020
- Watford staying up (Dale Tempest)
All aboard the Watford train!
They've showed in games against Liverpool and then Man United that they've got real quality, and what shone through in the win over United is just how crucial Troy Deeney is to this team and with him in the side they run faster, chase down harder and make life so much tougher for the opposition.
Villa and Norwich look doomed but Watford will escape, most likely at the expense of Southampton, who aren't as good as Watford and are just a Danny Ings injury away from being really poor.
- Tottenham win a trophy (Paul Higham)
Jose Mourinho will do the almost unthinkable and not only shake off Tottenham’s ‘Spursy’ traits but also shake off the most Spursy one of them all and finally end their long wait for a trophy.
Leicester could be the value pick in the FA Cup, but don’t rule out Jose’s side from picking that one up at Wembley – as he knows the benefit of lifting silverware early on in a new job.
I have also got a little sneaky feeling that he could take them a long way in the Champions League, and they showed last year that they know their way around a European tie.
- Pochettino to Man United (George Pitts)
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer continues to struggle to get any real consistency at Old Trafford, and the longer that goes on the more the fans and maybe the club bosses will start to question his long-term credentials.
Mauricio Pochettino is not going to Bayern just yet after they gave the job to Hansi Flick until the end of the season, and Poch will only get better as a manager the longer Solskjaer struggles - and at some point in 2020 he'll finally find his way into the job he's been linked with for so long.
- Brighton to end 2020 in the top seven (Tom Carnduff)
Not even sure you can get odds on this, but Graham Potter has impressed enough for Brighton to give him a new deal already, as they can see the signs that he's building something at Brighton and with a full season and a summer his side will be ones to watch next season.
Sheffield United have shown that the so-called lesser sides can muscle in on the big boys if they play it right, and there are still real issues the likes of Man United and Arsenal to deal with.
The Seagulls can swoop in and start fast next season, and end the year in the upper reaches of the league table.