Premier League awards 2021/22: Player, team, goal, game and surprise of the season

·15 min read
 (Liverpool FC via Getty Images / Action Images via Reuters / AFP)
(Liverpool FC via Getty Images / Action Images via Reuters / AFP)

The Premier League enters the final day with plenty still to play for with Liverpool pushing Manchester City all the way and one relegation place still to be determined.

The European places are still up for grabs, too, although Tottenham look primed to snatch the final Champions League place over Arsenal if they can avoid defeat against Norwich.

Jurgen Klopp’s Reds’ midweek comeback against Southampton ensures just the ninth title race to go to the wire since the league’s inception in 1992.

The golden boot is still in the balance too with Mohamed Salah set to rest until next week’s Champions League final, Son Heung-min can leapfrog the Egyptian with a double, while Cristiano Ronaldo would need four to tie.

Here Independent Sport writers debate their player of the season, best match, best goal and more:

Game of the season

Miguel Delaney: Manchester City 2-2 Liverpool. It could have been the other fixture between the two, or indeed three of the games between these two clubs and Tottenham Hotspur, but the context and quality of the April showdown just felt like it went a level above.

Richard Jolly: Manchester United 0-5 Liverpool. The sort of extraordinary scoreline that would long have been impossible to envisage but, as Liverpool declared after 50 minutes, could have been far higher. As it was, their biggest ever win at Old Trafford told a tale of both clubs and featured a hat-trick from a rampant Mohamed Salah.

Mark Critchley: Tottenham 2-2 Liverpool. The City-Liverpool matches were of a higher standard but this - and Tottenham’s win at the Etihad - were possibly more entertaining. Four goals, a lot of misses, a red card and each team brutally exposing the other’s flaws. It was the last fixture before Christmas too, which always feels like the perfect time for games like this.

Tony Evans: Brentford 3-3 Liverpool. Too many promoted teams radiate fear from the kick-off but Brentford bullied their betters in a see-sawing classic. It is a pleasure to see the game’s aristocrats knocked off their stride but technique went out the window as Thomas Frank’s team took the game to Liverpool. Sometimes only a dose of blood and thunder will do.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scores during a thriller at Brentford (Getty Images)
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scores during a thriller at Brentford (Getty Images)

Ben Burrows: Real Madrid 3-1 Manchester City. You watched it. You know.

Jack Rathborn: Brentford 3-3 Liverpool. An electric atmosphere and a sizzling tempo to a game that tested the Bees’ fearless at this level against such illustrious opponents. They didn’t blink in a classic six-goal thriller.

Lawrence Ostlere: Liverpool 2-2 Manchester City. For sheer quality of football it was the outstanding match, and featured a wonderous goal too.

Luke Baker: Liverpool 2-2 Manchester City. The two best teams in the league going head to head produced two incredible matches but, given the stakes, the April draw between Man City and Liverpool is marginally preferred to their October 2-2. In the thick of an intense title race, they produced a game of unbelievable quality and intensity. Totally compelling football.

Tom Kershaw: Liverpool 2-2 Manchester City. The weight of the occasion added to the spectacle in April but the 2-2 draw in October was elevated to another level by Salah’s solo goal.

Alex Pattle: Chelsea 2-2 Liverpool. Pure entertainment from start to finish, with mistakes and moments of brilliance in almost equal measure. Seemed to be a game that would highlight why neither team would go on to win the league – though Liverpool ended up improving sharply thereafter.

Michael Jones: Man City 2-3 Tottenham. What a game this was. A Harry Kane masterclass including that 95th minute winner that showed City just what they missed out on by not signing him in the summer. Bonus points for reigniting the title race when City looked home and dry back in February.

Jamie Braidwood: Leicester 2-3 Tottenham. Spurs were 2-1 down with 94 minutes and 52 seconds on the clock until Steven Bergwijn’s dramatic intervention. A ludicrous ending, sparking the best away day ‘limbs’ of the season.

Player of the season

MD: I voted for Mohamed Salah in the Football Writers’ Player of the Year but must say I’ve been wavering the last few games, as it feels like making the difference in the title race should be a core part of it. There, Kevin De Bruyne has been superb, reflecting how these have been England’s two dominant players for half a decade now. I’ll stick with Salah for now given the level he reached in October... but may feel different Monday morning!

RJ: Mohamed Salah. Recency bias counts against him, despite a flurry of April assists, but while Salah has been in a relative drought, it is a sign of his stunning start to the season that he has still been directly involved in 35 Premier League goals, scoring 22, making 13. But put together his first half of the season and Kevin de Bruyne’s second half and it would probably be the greatest campaign anyone has had in the division.

MC: Kevin De Bruyne. It’s him or the other guy, basically. Both have had a little dip in form at one point or another but the rest of the time, they have looked like the best in the world. Writing on this on Thursday lunchtime, I’m going with the one who looks likeliest to end as a title winner.

TE: Mohamed Salah: A superb season. The man took a month out for the Africa Cup of Nations and has still scored 30 goals in the Premier League and Champions League. He may not have finished yet.

BB: Joao Cancelo. It’s close this year but for my money Cancelo has been the most consistently impressive player in the (as it stands) best team in the country.

JR: Mohamed Salah. It’s really close, but Kevin De Bruyne will have only started 25 games after Sunday and Salah’s peak was slightly higher in my opinion. The numbers support him too: most goals (unless Son scores two at Norwich), most assists and most ‘goals + assists - penalties scored per 90 minutes’ (0.99).

Mohamed Salah has enjoyed an impressive season (Getty Images)
Mohamed Salah has enjoyed an impressive season (Getty Images)

LO: Mohamed Salah. Recency bias might have swayed some minds away from Salah (admittedly his form did drop slightly after Afcon) but from September to December he was untouchable and was widely heralded as the best player in the world. He arrives at the final weekend on top of both the goal and assist charts.

LB: Mohamed Salah. A superb season. The man took a month out for the Africa Cup of Nations and has still scored 30 goals in the Premier League and Champions League. He may not have finished yet.

TK: Mohamed Salah. He was at the peak of his powers during the first half of the season and was quite possibly the best player in the world over that period. He dipped a little post-Afcon but no other Premier League player operated as consistently at such a high level.

AP: Kevin De Bruyne. It’s hard to pick against Mohamed Salah, but De Bruyne has consistently been the best player in one of the best Premier League sides of all time over the last few seasons – including this year. When you look at the midfielder in that context, it’s difficult not to feel as though he’s still not getting full credit for his performances and career so far.

MJ: Son Heung-Min. 21 Premier League goals and seven assists in a Spurs team that fluctuated wildly in form throughout the season. Could still beat Salah to win the golden boot and may just have led Antonio Conte’s men back into the Champions League.

JB: Kevin De Bruyne. Manchester City are such an impressive team but De Bruyne still operates on a different level.

Goal of the season

MD: Mohamed Salah vs Manchester City. Certainly the best I saw in the flesh, as it felt like the sort of goal that had been unique to Leo Messi.

RJ: Bernardo Silva vs Aston Villa. Both a brilliant team goal and a wonderful individual strike, a counter-attack from the edge of one box to another, culminating a cushioned volley which flew in. The replays look good; seen in the flesh, it was sensational.

MC: Mohamed Salah vs Manchester City. I was sat in the media observers’ seats at Anfield – basically in the crowd, with my laptop on my knees – and I was sick of getting up to my feet over and over again, so when the row in front of me stood up this time I decided to stay sat down. It sounded like it was really good, though.

TE: Mohamed Salah vs Manchester City. The title race has had many twists and turns, but not as many as this splendid dribble. The Kop has not seen close control and shimmying brilliance like this since they heyday of Kenny Dalglish. Praise does not come higher

BB: Kevin De Bruyne vs Wolves. The third of his four on the night was his best as he burst through the Wolves midfield before rifling in from range with his supposedly weaker left foot.

JR: Raheem Sterling vs Everton. It’s Sterling’s goal, but the move includes the pass/assist of the season from Joao Cancelo. Incredible vision and technique.

LO: Mohamed Salah vs Manchester City. Brilliance on the biggest stage and the only goal I can remember which physically lifted me off the sofa emitting what can only be described as some kind of involuntary mating call.

TK: Mohamed Salah vs Manchester City: A similar goal at Vicarage Road was so good even Watford’s fans applauded it but to repeat it against Manchester City was remarkable.

AP: Mateo Kovacic vs Liverpool. I’ll admit to having a soft spot for a volley, but even so, this was right up there. So was the ball before Kovacic made the most ridiculous contact to loop it into the top corner after backpedaling into the perfect position. Any goal from Salah’s collection of marvelous solo efforts would also be a worthy winner.

MJ: Mateo Kovacic vs Liverpool. An audacious strike, perfectly executed. Pure magic.

JB: Mohamed Salah vs Manchester United. Although finished by Salah, this goal was all down to a 25-pass move that reduced United into training cones and the assist of the season from Sadio Mane: a ridiculous, sweeping ball over his left shoulder that arced into Salah’s path.

Surprise of the season

MD: Brentford. Many would have expected them to go straight down, especially as they still essentially operate as a Championship club, but it’s why Thomas Frank is a candidate for manager of the season. Just when they were flagging, too, there was the uplifting masterstroke of bringing in Christian Eriksen.

RJ: Brentford. They got fewer points than Watford or Norwich last season and now have more than both combined. They started the season with a handful of Premier League appearances between them and have looked at home in the division. Tactically clever, physically strong, brilliantly managed and with a feelgood story in the return of Christian Eriksen, they have been revelations.

MC: Listening to a rival organisation's podcast and realising that Younes Kaboul never played for Queens Park Rangers.

TE: There is football life in Nottinghamshire! Everyone’s talking about Forest going from the bottom of the Championship in September to the play-off final against Huddersfield Town but Mansfield Town’s campaign has been equally remarkable. The Stags were second from bottom of League Two on October 23 and only avoided propping up the table because of goal difference. Now they are heading for Wembley, playing for a place in League One. It has been a brilliant, if unexpected campaign for the region.

BB: Christian Eriksen. No one thought we’d even see Eriksen play again, let alone see him return to this close to his best. A brilliant piece of business for Brentford.

JR: Joelinton’s impressive transition into a superb box-to-box centre-midfielder under Eddie Howe. Widely mocked for so long as Newcastle’s £40m striker, impressive how Howe has shown a creative mind to tap into his talent.

LO: Jarrod Bowen. Did anyone, anywhere, tip Jarrod Bowen to be one of the players of the season? Not even Jarrod Bowen tipped Jarrod Bowen. West Ham have been great and Bowen has been their revelation, with 12 goals and 12 assists and a relentless work ethic too. An England call-up would be well deserved.

West Ham’s Jarrod Bowen scored twice against Manchester City (Adam Davy/PA) (PA Wire)
West Ham’s Jarrod Bowen scored twice against Manchester City (Adam Davy/PA) (PA Wire)

LB: Brentford have been brilliant. The think-pieces about ‘second-season syndrome’ and how sustainable this is can wait for a few months – for now, we should simply revel in how they’ve swashbuckled their way to safety, and potentially even a top-half finish, despite the financial chasm between them and most Premier League teams. Thomas Frank deservedly made the Manager of the Season shortlist and Christian Eriksen’s return was not only an incredible feelgood story but gave them a boost just when they needed it most.

TK: Christian Eriksen: That the Dane even returned to the pitch at all was a remarkable feat but the way he has inspired Brentford from a worrying slump to a potential top-half finish has been extraordinary.

AP: Brentford finishing mid-table. Many observers had valid reasons for believing that the Bees would stay up this season, but Thomas Frank's side have truly excelled this year to push for a top-half finish.

MJ: Aaron Ramsdale: Deposed Bernd Leno as Arsenal’s no.1 something Emi Martinez couldn’t manage. Big saves and clean sheets led to an England debut and he is a big reason why the Gunners overachieved this season.

JB: The answer is Christian Eriksen and Brentford, but Tottenham and Antonio Conte making it through to the end of the season in apparent harmony and set for the top four is quite remarkable, given there were at least four occasions where it looked like their relationship was close to falling apart.

Disappointment of the season

MD: The fact the Saudi Arabian takeover of Newcastle United was virtually waved through in the end. It said so much about the running and standards of the game, and that at such a fractious time amid the calls for an independent regulator. The ongoing fall-out from the invasion of Ukraine, and the existential threat to Chelsea, also shows how irresponsible it is to leave football so subject to geopolitics. It is like the game has learned nothing so much discussion about sportswashing, and it is sad that another club is being used for such political purposes.

RJ: Manchester United. A hubristic failure of virtually everyone except David de Gea, Anthony Elanga and, oddly, Fred. It is quite an achievement to take a side that finished second, add Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane, compile an £800m squad and be that bad. The Glazers, Ed Woodward, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick must share the blame, along with most of the players, though the ex-United players in the ranks of the punditry had a pretty awful year, too.

MC: Given some of the expectations at the start of the season and the manner in which will end, it probably has to be Manchester United.

TE: Everton. When they were the ruling power in the city, they were known as the ‘Mersey Millionaires.’ They tried to recapture that title by spending more than half a billion in the past five years. It has bought nothing but misery. The Rafa Benitez experiment started well and in mid-October they were fifth in the table. Then the meltdown started. The season has been ugly

BB: Jadon Sancho. Very much not his fault, but Sancho's first season back in Manchester didn't go as planned. He showed promising signs later in the year, however, and the hope must be that Erik ten Hag's arrival can unlock the player the whole of Europe wanted a year ago.

JR: Romelu Lukaku. Everybody expected so much more after his £100m move, allowed an ill-advised interview to ruin his season.

Romelu Lukaku has endured a tough season back at Stamford Bridge (PA Wire)
Romelu Lukaku has endured a tough season back at Stamford Bridge (PA Wire)

LO: Romelu Lukaku. He was supposed to be the missing piece which elevated Chelsea to becoming a 90-point team like City and Liverpool, but that didn’t happen. Perhaps Thomas Tuchel’s biggest task this summer is to figure out how Chelsea unlock Lukaku’s goals.

LB: A toss-up between Manchester United and Everton but I’ll give the edge to the Toffees as post-Ferguson era United have always had the propensity for capitulation, albeit not normally quite as spectacularly as this. Everton will probably stay up but given the quality of their squad and the money they’ve spent in the past few years, it’s an abject failure that they’ve found themselves in such an intense relegation scrap.

TK: Romelu Lukaku. His £97.5m signing was supposed to cement Chelsea as title contenders. Instead, he has been totally at odds with Thomas Tuchel’s approach, exacerbated those problems with a provocative interview and has since spent much of his time on the sidelines.

AP: The Premier League allowing Newcastle to be bought with a PIF-funded bid.

MJ: Manchester United. New summer arrivals in Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane sparked a fresh wave of optimism that the Red Devils were back but after a decent start the wheels came off, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was sacked, and Ralf Rangnick couldn’t right the ship as interim coach with United messing up their challenge for top four.

JB: Paul Pogba. There was hope after starting the season with seven assists from his opening four games and on the back of a brilliant Euros, but his final year at Manchester United ends with more of the same.