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The PFA Player of the Year Debate: Henderson, Mane or De Bruyne?

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The close race for the PFA award

Many legendary figures have claimed the PFA Player of the Year award, with the unrivalled defensive work from Virgil van Dijk justifying his win last season with Liverpool. The Dutchman became the first defender since John Terry in 2004/05 to win the prestigious award, beating the elite playmakers and goalscorers in England to the title.

This year, once again, it's the Liverpool and Manchester City men battling it out for this individual accolade. Surprisingly, a City star has never officially won the award in their years of dominating English football, with the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany all being overlooked by names such as Robin van Persie, Luis Suarez and Mohamed Salah down the years. Perhaps this is the year a City man reigns supreme.

De Bruyne is once again in the mix for this award, battling the likes of Jordan Henderson and Sadio Mane for the award. Here, we take a look at this great debate and see who deserve to win the PFA Player of the Year.

Jordan Henderson was the frontrunner - is he still?

Henderson's impact in the middle of Liverpool's record-breaking team has been something special. Prior to the suspension of football, the midfielder was the bookies favourite to win the PFA Player of the Year award, narrowly pipping his Liverpool teammate, Mane and rival De Bruyne to the top.

After years of trying to fill the void left by Steven Gerrard (perhaps trying too hard), Henderson seems to have finally come into his own. This famous Jurgen Klopp system seems to fit his engine like a glove after years of drilling in the hours to fine-tune his game and perfect each dedicated pass.

The width given by Mane and Salah and the creative work from Roberto Firmino allows Henderson to command the midfield alongside Georginio Wijnaldum and Fabinho. Whilst the latter does work on his defensive duties, the Dutchman works box-to-box and allows the Englishman to do his bit in the centre.

The statistics don't tell the whole story, as they often do not - just look at Ryan Giggs' PFA win in 2009. Henderson has missed just four games in the league, registering three goals and four assists, which is still the most league goal involvements outside of Liverpool's sensational front three - this in itself is quite the accolade.

Henderson's understanding of his role now and the width personified by the full-backs allow the midfielder to spray passes across Anfield and start almost every attack. Whilst he was not a direct result of their loss to Watford, this sole league defeat thus far against the Hornets did not include Henderson within the squad. So go figure with that.

Furthermore, what must also add to the ex-Sunderland star's PFA debate is his captaincy of this incredible squad. Whilst potentially becoming the first Liverpool captain to lift the Premier League title, Henderson hasn't just 'worn the armband'. His emotions run high to the point of exemplary dedication, rather than just recklessly bouncing around the pitch and hoping to fill Gerrard's shoes.

Henderson is a leader. A man who has come into his own and he has been without question the best central midfielder this year; assuming we class De Bruyne as more of an attacking midfielder, rather than a CM. His only worry is if Mane's goal involvements and City's creative genius surpass his unprecedented effects for Liverpool.

Kevin De Bruyne

De Bruyne is already unfortunate not to win the PFA POTY award. Back in 2017/18, City ran riot over the Premier League, achieving an unprecedented 100 points after barely being touched all year long.

In that year, the Belgian was the standout player for the club and won City's Player of the Year that campaign. The only aspect that stopped De Bruyne claiming the PFA title was Salah and his record-breaking 32 goals in the 38-game season.

Now, once again, the ex-Chelsea man might be overlooked because of other Liverpool stars. Whilst Salah broke records for goals scored that year, De Bruyne is heading for a campaign of individual accolades for assists this campaign.

This season alone, the 29-year-old became the fastest player in Premier League history to 50 assists, beating Mesut Ozil's record to that margin by 18 games. Now, the City star is on course for another record held by an Arsenal man: the most assists within a single season.

The record of most assists within a Premier League campaign lies with Thierry Henry and his 20 creations back in 2002/03. So far, De Bruyne is on 16 after 28 games, meaning he needs just another five from 10 games, which, based on recent history, he could do within just a handful of matches.

City currently trail leaders Liverpool by 25 points and are ahead of Leicester City by only four. Without the Belgian's impact, the distance from the Reds would be greater and undoubtedly, the Foxes would be in second place.

Whilst this year won't be a memorable one for the champions, it will be for their creative star. Combining unrivalled passing ability and consistent brilliance throughout, De Bruyne will be hard done by again if he loses out once again. Regardless, it's been a record-breaking campaign and the records are looking like piling up for him.

Sadio Mane

Based solely on their importance to the side, Mane should win the PFA award. Whilst Henderson's efforts for Liverpool have been monumental, the Senegal international's 14 goals and seven assists mean he has been directly involved in more goals than anyone else in the entire league.

From those 14 efforts, half have come as game-winners, whilst his goals against Leicester City, Sheffield United and Manchester City were key to the three points that day - two of those teams have been title contenders this year.

Furthermore, the Reds' superstar netted the winners against Southampton, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Bournemouth, West Ham United, Norwich City, Aston Villa, and Newcastle United. In total, this directly accounts for 21 points on the board, meaning without Mane's goals, Liverpool's 25 point gap could be cut to just four.

It's also important to note that City currently have a game in hand and if they win that fixture, the gap is cut to 22. Now, Mane's game-winning goals that salvaged 21 points look even more important.

It's simple, without the winger's work this season, it's tough to see Liverpool being so far ahead of the pack. He's been as important as anybody and is arguably the pick of the bunch for the PFA Player of the Year award, just one year after claiming the Premier League Golden Boot.