Due to the outbreak of the coronavirus, most of European football's top leagues have ceased play. Should that instigate the cancellation of the leagues, we have the Player of the Year awards ready to hand out.
If Ligue 1 has been a one-horse race this season, the fight to secure the title of the league’s outstanding player certainly hasn’t been.
While Lyon’s Memphis Depay sparkled before a serious knee injury and Dimitri Payet has enjoyed a renaissance in his form at Marseille, players from Paris Saint-Germain have dominated the running.
Angel Di Maria, for example, has enjoyed what has arguably been the best season of his career – and certainly his best campaign since inspiring Real Madrid to Champions League glory in 2014 before an ill-fated move to Manchester United – but despite an astonishing 14 assists, it has been impossible to overlook the contribution that the game’s most expensive players have made for Thomas Tuchel’s side.
Both Neymar and Kylian Mbappe have posted formidable numbers, between them contributing an impressive 31 goals and 11 assists in a mere 35 combined appearances (including three as replacements).
Neither, however, has had a straightforward season. Both have been troubled by injury issues, with Mbappe suffering the first significant setback of his career in August via a hamstring problem.
But though the 21-year-old World Cup winner suffered the most dramatic downturn of form in his short career during the early weeks of 2020, he takes the edge for this award simply because he has been able to turn out more than his superstar cohort.
Even during his ‘poor’ period, Mbappe was recording statistics that would be the envy of elite players the world over. Goals have been amassed upon goals, although perhaps not managing a blistering run like Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi at their peak, but consistently drip feeding them in ones and twos. Since fully overcoming his early season troubles in mid-October, Mbappe has failed to find the net in only seven appearances, including a 26-minute cameo off the bench against Borussia Dortmund.
With 11.4 touches in the box per 90 minutes. this season, he boasts more than any other player in Europe's top leagues, while in domestic play no-one who has started 10 matches this season can match his 2.9 shots-on-target per 90 minutes. Only Cristiano Ronaldo of Juventus (6.0) has more shots per game than Mbappe's 5.2.
The signs that he was returning to his best were clear immediately before the COVID-enforced lockdown, despite Mbappe himself being tested negative for coronavirus mere hours before turning out against BVB at Parc des Princes.
In PSG’s final league match against Dijon, he scored two and set up another in a 4-0 rout, but it was against Lyon in the Coupe de France semi-final that he returned to the zenith of his powers in what had the capacity to become a season-defining match.
Against OL, he dragged his out-of-sorts side through to the final, scoring a fine hat-trick that was highlighted by a dramatic solo goal that earned comparisons to Diego Maradona’s strike against England in the 1986 World Cup. Even if those were generous, it was a goal that stands a strong chance of being in Puskas Award contention, particularly given the increasing likelihood of a curtailed calendar.
Having already played well over 200 matches in his short senior career, the unwelcome suspension of play should do him good, and when football finally resumes he could well return stronger than ever. That is a worrying thought for PSG’s rivals.
Ligue 2 Player of the Year
France’s second tier is not noted for prolific goalscoring, so the contribution of Tino Kadewere at Le Havre in scoring 20 goals in 24 matches has been exceptional. The Zimbabwe international has already earned a big move to Lyon and is back in Normandy on a loan deal that runs to the end of the season and it will be his goal to fire France’s oldest club back into the top flight so he can reunite with them next term. His keen eye for goal certainly gives them a chance.