Who is Man Utd's Player of the Season?

Who is Man Utd's Player of the Season?

Date: 13 May 2017 03:03

The Red Devils are on the verge of Europa League glory despite falling short in the league. So who are their top three stars of the 2016-17 campaign?

Jose Mourinho calls it "closing the circle". The club has promoted it as "the final piece in the jigsaw". The subject is the Europa League, as Manchester United stand on the verge on winning the competition for the first time and completing the set of available trophies in world football.

De Gea won't play in Europa League final

But whether or not United get the job done against Ajax on May 24 in Stockholm, some will still claim it has been an underwhelming season for a club which synonymous with flowing football and constant involvement in the assignment of major trophies. While there has been no Champions League involvement and an inability to have a real say in the top four race in the Premier League, Mourinho has led his side to an EFL Cup win and the Europa League final, as well as the season-opening Community Shield.

Perhaps people expected more from Paul Pogba after his world record-breaking transfer from Juventus, but his stats rival anybody's in the Premier League, while David de Gea has once more been an assuring presence in goal despite coming under less pressure than in previous campaigns.

Eric Bailly has turned in an excellent first campaign in England but blotted his copybook with an untimely red card in the Europa League semi-final, while Ander Herrera just misses out on the podium when it comes to individual awards having adapted to a slightly new role this term. Henrikh Mkhitaryan is another who might be considered in the Player of the Season running in some circles.

However, Goal has selected United's top three performers of the 2016-17 season and, given there were some incredibly close calls, feel free to join the debate in the comment box at the bottom of the page!


3. MARCUS RASHFORD


Marcus Rashford Manchester United Europa League

Before April the selection of Marcus Rashford ahead of Mkhitaryan would have been a matter of some contention, but the young striker's response to adversity this season has been nothing short of phenomenal.

He got almost no game time at the beginning of the season but bounced back with a crucial injury-time winner at Hull City. He then adapted well to spending the majority of the campaign out wide as Zlatan Ibrahimovic bossed the central striker position. But it was in the big man's absence that he thrived most, and since he ended a seven-month goal drought against Sunderland in the spring he has not looked back.

His excellent performance and crucial goal in the 2-0 win over Chelsea was a stand-out as Mourinho finally picked Rashford ahead of Ibra. Then he switched to the No.9 role with match-winning effect against Anderlecht after Zlatan had suffered his season-curtailing knee injury.

And come the semi-final he provided a showing of great maturity in Vigo, capping it off with the wonderful winner, and then came back to bite Celta again in assisting Marouane Fellaini's crucial goal in the return leg while being at the heart of United's best moments.

He may well have shown some rough edges at times as he continues to come to terms with a new reality which was nothing but a dream 15 months ago, yet he is quickly becoming an all-round striker of real talent. And, come the business end of the season, he has stepped effortlessly into Zlatan's boots as United's new talisman.


2. ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC


Zlatan Ibrahimovic Manchester United EFL Cup 26022017

He might often have seemingly compromised United's commitment to a certain style of football, but 28 goals in a shortened first season in England certainly answered a whole host of critics. United's self-proclaimed 'Lion' has enjoyed shutting up more than a few people with his wonderful form in his debut Premier League campaign.

The big Swede scored far too many game-defining goals to mention, with his form through the winter months particularly praiseworthy. Two goals in the EFL Cup final win over Southampton stand out, while the wonderful long-range finishes against Bournemouth and Sunderland will also feature in the season-ending highlight reels.

His ability to conserve energy and then deliver bursts of superb forward play have surprised many who thought a 35-year-old would find it difficult to adapt to the Premier League, and while Ibrahimovic himself has bemoaned the lack of control teams have when leading in England, he has clearly relished his spell in Manchester.

His anterior cruciate ligament injury might have put an end to hopes he would end his campaign on home soil in the Europa League final, but Zlatan's impact will still be stamped all over the victory if they pull it off thanks to the personality he has added to the squad this term.


1. ANTONIO VALENCIA


Antonio Valencia Manchester United 2016

There have been times in seasons gone by when Antonio Valencia has looked like the least appropriate option possible at right-back, but 2016-17 will go down in the Ecuadorian's career as the moment he became a true Manchester United superstar.

He spent long spells under Louis van Gaal in the defensive line but never did he truly stake his claim to be irreplaceable in quite the way he has done under Mourinho. "I just think he is the best right-back you can have. There is no better right-back in football," said Mourinho in January, and the sheer lack of dissenting voices said much about the claim's veracity.

Valencia has owned the right flank this term, not just chiming in well with attacks as would be expected of a converted winger, but also improving his defensive reading of the game beyond recognition.

"I tried to sign Antonio a number of years ago, when I was at Madrid," Mourinho added of the right-back. "Even though he was not playing right-back at the time, I thought he could be phenomenal in that position. As it was, United told me 'no chance!'"

And it is now so clear to see why Mourinho had faith in Valencia's ability to make the switch. He may not have got the praise afforded to Ibrahimovic this term, and he might not grab the headlines of a Pogba or a Wayne Rooney, but his marvellous level of consistency in a season which has seen so little of exactly that on a team-wide level is worthy of immense praise.


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