Virgil Van Dijk and Raheem Sterling have undoubtedly been two of the greatest players in the Premier League this season, producing scintillating performances at opposite ends of the pitch as they drove their teams in the search for Premier League glory. Of course, one was to be unsuccessful in this endeavour, but Sesha Subramanian argues that they were head and shoulders above the rest in during the 2018-19 season.
Normally when two teams have had such brilliant campaigns, the offensive side of the game hogs the limelight. And yet, despite the brilliance of the front three at Anfield, it is the defending that has been the mastermind of this title run, with Dutch centre-back Virgil Van Dijk being at the helm of it. His composure and quiet confidence, together with that of goalkeeper Alisson, have been the main reason the Reds find themselves defensively solid nearly every game and remaining confident even with narrow 1-0 margins.
For far too long, Liverpool have relied to a fault on their attacking prowess with defensive stability taking a backseat (consider Suarez, Torres and Gerrard among others). They have scored more or less the same number of goals this year (89 so far) as they did last year (84) but their stingy defence (46 goals conceded last year versus 22 so far this year) has been the reason they were able to eke out wins in tough situations. Their defence has been crucial in amassing 97 points and pushing one of the best teams in Premier League history (Manchester City) to the last day in the title race, not to mention reaching a second straight Champions League semi-final.
Speaking of the other main character in football’s version of the Long Night (which most certainly was not as long as this has been), Manchester City have been as relentless in their pursuit of retaining the title as Liverpool have in trying to steal it from them. This year again, they have been as close to perfection as we can expect. In a team of stars such as City’s it may hard to stand out and yet that is what England winger Raheem Sterling has managed to do. With 17 goals and 10 assists across the campaign, Sterling has clearly established himself as one of the first names on the team sheet. This year, he has become a threat for both club and country and has developed an all-round game that was missing in previous years. He has handled his business on the field with aplomb and has started to play a larger role off the field. If anyone is a role model for youngsters coming through the game in today’s Premier League, it has to be Raheem Sterling.