The eight-man shortlist has been announced for PFA Young Player of the Year.
One of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Jack Grealish, Dean Henderson, Marcus Rashford, Mason Mount, Anthony Martial, Christian Pulisic and Mason Greenwood will be voted by their peers as the outstanding young talent for the 2019/20 season.
It strikes us as one of the most competitive shortlists in recent times; a compelling case can be made for the majority of the nominees.
What’s also noticeable is the Man United representation.
Every member of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s preferred forward line has made the cut and while Henderson has been included for his efforts in a Sheffield United shirt, he is technically a Man United player — the future’s bright at Old Trafford.
Let’s take a closer look at each player, starting with Liverpool’s homegrown wonderkid…
As the only player who is nominated for both Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year, Anfield’s No66 is surely favourite for the junior gong.
With four goals and 13 assists from right-back we almost don’t need to venture much beyond those basic stats to justify the 21-year-old’s inclusion.
And yet to not acknowledge the style of Alexander-Arnold’s performances would be an injustice.
Many of his assists came from whipped crosses from deep the like of which Premier League watchers haven’t seen since David Beckham’s heyday.
The Beckham comparisons were cemented with some stunning free-kicks, particularly in the latter half of the season.
Jurgen Klopp used the academy product in all 38 league games as Liverpool strolled to an historic title, evidence of his importance to the champions.
At 21 years old, you could argue Alexander-Arnold is already the best in the world in his position.
MARCUS RASHFORD & ANTHONY MARTIAL
We’ve paired these two because the team-mates enjoyed remarkably similar campaigns.
Rashford: 31 appearances, 17 goals, 7 assists.
Martial: 32 appearances, 17 goals, 6 assists.
There are differences of course, the Frenchman exhibited predatory instincts, showing a Ruud van Nistelrooy knack for movement and anticipation in the box.
Whereas United’s boy wonder excelled in wide areas, using his quick feet to bamboozle full-backs while also displaying an ever-improving eye for goal.
Both succeeded when United deployed their counterattack-focused approach and finished the season with the best goal return tally of their careers so far.
It’s always tough to compare players from different positions and that’s doubly true for keepers versus outfield players.
So while we may not be able to measure Henderson against the other nominees, we can be sure he is worthy of his place.
Sheffield United may have partially faded at the tail end of the season but for much of the campaign they were the second-best performers, behind Liverpool.
The Blades overachieved through excellent management and an impressive rearguard, the last line of which was Henderson’s consistently sharp shot-stopping.
The 23-year-old was so impressive that many called for him to usurp Jordan Pickford as England’s No1 with Man United fans also suggesting David De Gea’s place should be under threat in 2020/21.
Aston Villa’s talisman efforts to keep his beloved club in the Premier League ultimately proved successful and few would disagree that he was the primary contributor to the escape act.
Again, eight goals and six assists fail to tell the true story.
Everything went through Grealish for Villa and the fact he was fouled more than anyone else in the league tells you that opponents figured out: stopping Grealish equals stopping Villa.
But that sometimes proved difficult to execute, such is the No10’s ability to retain possession, carry the ball, and wriggle past opponents.
For some heroic displays in a testing campaign, Grealish deserves to be in the mix.
The Chelsea midfielder was certainly one of the surprise packages of the season.
Having showed his ability in the Championship with Derby under Frank Lampard, Mount was given a chance in the top flight by the same manager at Stamford Bridge.
The ambitious midfielder enjoyed his best form at the bookends of the season, suffering a muted patch in the middle that is to be expected of a developing player.
12 goal involvements represents a good return for a player who came from the league below and was occasionally charged with filling the hole left by Eden Hazard — no easy task.
You could argue that Bukayo Saka warranted a nomination and if so then Mount would probably be the one to drop out.
The fact the Arsenal starlet missed out just shows how many young players made a significant impact this season.
Most neutrals would admit they are excited to see Chelsea’s American winger in action again soon.
Lampard used Pulisic sparingly to begin with but when unleashed the former Borussia Dortmund man proved to be a matchwinner.
The 21-year-old finished the season with nine goals and four assists in the league despite only featuring in 25 games.
More than anything, it was his willingness to dribble fearlessly at defenders that made him so fun to watch.
An electric player who seemed to make things happen from nothing, Pulisic’s first season in England has given Blues fans another reason to be hopeful in 2020/21.
There are some who think the parameters for Young Player of the Year need addressing.
It does seem odd that Grealish, who turns 25 next month and has over 200 games under his belt, falls into the same category as Greenwood, a teenager who had only featured in three professional fixtures before the start of the season.
Hypothetically, if there were increased restrictions on age and experience, Man United’s goal-hungry youngster would likely be favourite.
Certainly he is the standalone emerging player of the season, one who has caught the eye with the crispness of his shooting.
Greenwood finished with ten league goals and made hitting the back of the net look deceptively easy at times.
Few stars are rising as quickly as United’s No26.
Who do you think should win?