This has been a strange first half to the 2019-20 Premier League campaign. After last year's exhilarating two-club race for the title, Liverpool have dropped two points and are 13 points clear of second-place Leicester with a game in hand. FiveThirtyEight gives Jurgen Klopp's side a 96% chance of winning their first Premier League title, and they've played only 20 of 38 games. The rest of the top flight are struggling to catch up.
Six sides have sacked their respective managers after West Ham dismissed Manuel Pellegrini last weekend, which ties the league record for the most firings before Jan. 1. Over the first 20 years of the Premier League, there was not a single season in which four or more managers were sacked by the new year. Over the past seven seasons, that's happened five times, including 16 sackings over the past three years. It's one thing when relegation candidates make changes, but most of the sackings this season have been by clubs who expected to contend for places in the top four, such as Arsenal, Everton and Tottenham.
The days of the Big Six, at least for now, are numbered; there's a "Big Two" with Liverpool and City, and a huge swath of clubs below them. It has made for an entertaining first half, and today, I'm going to hand out awards for the best and worst of the Premier League campaign so far.
Best signing of the season
This award honors the best transfers involving a player who is new to his club. That means no players who were on loan last season before completing a permanent transfer (such as Raul Jimenez of Wolves or Leicester's Youri Tielemans) or players returning from loan, like most of Chelsea's new faces. The size of the fee also matters: acquiring a starting center-back for £3 million is naturally much better business than signing one of similar caliber for £75 million.
Frankly, it was a struggle to find many great transfers for Premier League clubs this season. The summer was not an impressive window, with several major clubs idle while investments made by sides such as Arsenal and Spurs have generally failed to deliver early returns. (Editor's note: All transfer figures are the listed prices at Transfermarkt.)
5. Allan Saint-Maximin, FW, Nice to Newcastle United (£16.2 million): Although Saint-Maximin will miss several weeks with a hamstring injury and has one goal in 823 minutes for a struggling Newcastle side, his breathtaking pace on the left wing has made him a critical part of his new team's counterattacks this season. The highlight of Saint-Maximin's season was likely giving Kyle Walker fits in the 2-2 draw vs. Manchester City in November. He's averaging 4.5 successful dribbles per game, the third-best mark in the Premier League this season behind Adama Traore and Wilfried Zaha.
4. Rodri, MF, Atletico Madrid to Manchester City (£63 million): It's incredible to see how far the Spanish international has come in a short amount of time, given that he became a first-team regular at Villarreal only two years ago. Consecutive breakout seasons in Spain with Villarreal and Atletico Madrid led Rodri to become City's record signing. While he was realistically signed as a long-term replacement for Fernandinho as City's holding midfielder, he also has been used as a makeshift central defender alongside the 34-year-old Brazilian, who is expected to leave after the season.
Unsurprisingly, Rodri has racked up gobs of passing volume during his debut season at the Etihad. The 23-year-old is averaging 86.2 pass attempts and 79.6 completed passes per 90 minutes, which tops all Premier League midfielders. Teammates Oleksandr Zinchenko and Ilkay Gundogan are right behind him, which is a reminder of just how significantly City dominate possession, but Rodri has stepped into the starting XI for one of the most demanding, impatient clubs on the planet and looks like he belongs. While he's not a bargain, Rodri could be a long-term building block.
3. Aaron Wan-Bissaka, DF, Crystal Palace to Manchester United (£49.5 million): While United have been a work in progress this season, Wan-Bissaka has shown up and delivered exactly what United would have hoped for when they signed him this summer: tackles, tackles and more tackles. The 22-year-old hasn't contributed much as an attacker, but he's neck-and-neck with Leicester's Ricardo Pereira in averaging 4.1 tackles per 90 minutes. Wan-Bissaka ranks in the top four among right-backs in both tackle percentage and successful duel percentage this season. He hasn't had to defend as frequently as he did while playing for a more conservative Palace side last season, but Wan-Bissaka is still the best defensive right-back in the division.
2. Neal Maupay, FW, Brentford to Brighton, (£19.8 million): After a slow start to his career with the Seagulls, Maupay has hit a rich vein of form since the start of December. Maupay contributed three goals and an assist across six starts; by using TruMedia's post-shot expected goals on target model, he has been worth 4.0 xG since matchday 15, which ranks fourth in the division. The 23-year-old tends to score in bunches -- he knocked home nine goals in his first six matches with Brentford in the Championship last season -- and has already expressed his desire to play alongside Kylian Mbappe in France's Olympic team this summer. On this form, he has a right to be in Tokyo.
1. Dean Henderson, GK, Manchester United to Sheffield United (loan): While Henderson was on loan with Sheffield United last year and helped them get promoted to the Premier League, the 22-year-old returned to his parent club and signed a new long-term deal before going back on loan to the top-flight newcomers this summer. His form for Sheffield has been good enough for some United fans to call for Henderson's return to the club as a replacement for David De Gea.
Henderson himself has made the odd mistake here and there, but he has been a crucial part of the league's third-stingiest defense behind Liverpool and Leicester City. His 75.0 save percentage ranks him third in the Premier League behind Alisson and Hugo Lloris, while Henderson has forced opposing attacks to underperform their expected goals mark by 7.2 xG this season, which tops all keepers in the division.
Worst signing of the season
Likewise, this list considers both a player's performance and how much was spent to acquire him. I've generally tried to avoid signings who have been dealing with injuries, such as Arsenal's Kieran Tierney, Everton's Jean-Philippe Gbamin or Tottenham's Tanguy Ndombele.
5. Albian Ajeti, FW, Basel to West Ham (£7.8 million): Truth be told, it wasn't easy to narrow down the many disappointing West Ham summer transfers to the two who make it onto this list. While Pablo Fornals has looked more impressive in recent weeks and Sebastian Haller has scored six goals, Ajeti has barely looked playable when West Ham have brought him onto the pitch.
In 122 minutes as a substitute behind Haller, Ajeti has taken one shot and contributed 0.1 xG for the Hammers. Pellegrini didn't seem to even trust Ajeti as a backup by the time he was sacked, while David Moyes didn't bring Ajeti on during Wednesday's 4-0 win over Bournemouth. Rumors are already circulating that the club would love to sell in the summer.
4. Nicolas Pepe, FW, Lille to Arsenal (£72 million): I'll be the first to say that it's too early to judge whether he'll ever live up to his club-record transfer fee. At 24, though, Pepe isn't one for the future. The winger was supposed to make an immediate impact after arriving from France, yet recently deposed Arsenal skipper Unai Emery didn't seem to trust Pepe as a regular starter. The Ivory Coast international was anonymous for most of Emery's final few months with the club, contributing one goal and two assists across his first 13 appearances.
With Mikel Arteta taking over for Emery, the hope is naturally that he'll get the most out of Pepe. While Arteta initially gave Reiss Nelson opportunities on the wing, Pepe promptly delivered his best performance of the season on New Year's Day, scoring the first goal in Arsenal's 2-0 win over Manchester United and being named man of the match. A few more performances like that will turn the tide for Pepe, who needs to get regular minutes to prove what he can do.
3. Joelinton, FW, Hoffenheim to Newcastle (£39.6 million): Getting Newcastle owner Mike Ashley to spend has been virtually impossible, which led manager Rafa Benitez to quit the club in June. While Newcastle spent about £30 million more than they recouped on player sales last summer, their biggest move seems bizarre. Of all the players Newcastle could have chosen to sign to keep Benitez happy, the striker they chose to add after Rafa's departure for a club-record fee of £40 million is a guy who scored seven goals in 2,136 minutes as a Bundesliga player last season.
There's more to Joelinton's game than scoring goals, but on a club that's trying to play counterattacking soccer under Steve Bruce, the Brazilian rarely even comes close to looking like he's going to score. The 23-year-old has one goal and two assists in just over 1,600 minutes played this season, and while he's second on the club with 22 chances created, Joelinton hasn't made enough impact as either a goal scorer or a creative force.
Bruce has shifted former record signing Miguel Almiron to the right side to clear out space for Joelinton's frequent forays back into center midfield, which has neutered the former Atlanta United star's effectiveness after a wildly promising debut half-season. Expected goals suggest Joelinton has been more valuable than his solitary goal indicates, but this has still been a very disappointing signing given the outlay for a club that has scored 20 times in 21 games.
2. Roberto, GK, Espanyol to West Ham (free): While free transfers can be only so harmful, few signings seem to directly result in both a manager and a director of football leaving the club. When 2018-19 keeper of the year Lukasz Fabianski went down with a torn hip muscle, the Hammers were forced to turn to Roberto, who was signed from Malaga over the summer at the behest of their director of football, Mario Husillos.
Outside of an Ali Dia-style interloper, it's hard to remember a player who was shown to be out of his element faster than the former Atletico keeper. West Ham players reportedly questioned Roberto's aptitude after his first practice session. Roberto started seven matches and lost six of them, allowing 16 goals in the process. I have some sympathy for the Spanish veteran, who made three saves in one-on-one situations and was working behind an attack that generated only seven goals in those seven matches, but one of the key reasons Husillos was fired was Roberto's subpar performance. It's unlikely he'll ever make another appearance for the Hammers.
1. Moise Kean, FW, Juventus to Everton (£24.8 million): Has a universally lauded signing ever gone south so quickly? Kean was seen as a huge coup for Everton when director of football Marcel Brands landed the 19-year-old from Juventus last summer. While Kean wasn't expected to start every match as part of a deep Everton attack under then manager Marco Silva, the Italian international was supposed to further his development within Everton's ambitions to play in the Champions League. Instead, Silva has been sacked, Everton are battling relegation and Kean has played a full 90 minutes once during his time on Merseyside.
Kean has started three times and contributed a lone assist across 458 Premier League minutes this season. Along the way, he was dropped from the squad altogether for disciplinary reasons. After taking over as manager, countryman Carlo Ancelotti might coax something better out of Kean, but it seems more likely that Kean will leave England to further his career. He has become the scapegoat for owner Farhad Moshiri's disappointing new era in Everton.
Goal of the season
5. Andre Gray, Watford vs. Norwich, Nov. 8: Watford didn't have many bright moments under Quique Sanchez Flores' brief second stint with the club, but their first win of the year included an absolutely sublime finish from their English international. Gray has contributed only two goals in a disappointing season, and he has been exclusively used as a substitute over the past month, but few strikers have the sort of running, jumping back-heel in their locker that Gray used to score against Norwich.
4. Tammy Abraham, Chelsea vs. Southampton, Oct. 6: This brilliant chip from Chelsea's leading striker is almost a mirror for a goal Jamie Vardy scored against Bournemouth in August. Vardy was on the run and found himself with a keeper desperately stranded in no man's land, but I love watching Abraham's rainbow of a chip just that much more. There's virtually no window for Abraham to even attempt this, let alone lob a sumptuous strike over Angus Gunn. Defender Maya Yoshida is back to clear the ball off the line, but Abraham was so inch-perfect with his finish that he rendered Yoshida irrelevant.
3. Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Brighton vs. Chelsea, Jan. 1: Brighton have been waiting for their Iranian attacker to get going after a wildly disappointing start in England. After he failed to tally a goal or an assist during his debut season in the Premier League, new manager Graham Potter and a hamstring injury kept Jahanbakhsh out of the team for the skipper's first three months at the club.
With the holiday fixtures forcing Potter to rotate his team, he finally gave the former AZ star a chance to impress and Jahanbakhsh has responded with goals in two of his first three appearances this season. The 26-year-old will likely get more opportunities to make his mark in the new year, but he's unlikely to score a better goal than his overhead equalizer vs. Chelsea on New Year's Day.
2. Moussa Djenepo, Southampton vs. Sheffield United, Sept. 14: The hope at Southampton is Djenepo emerges as the worthy replacement for another former winger at the club in Sadio Mane. It's obviously way too early to make those sort of comparisons, but Djenepo's second Premier League goal in two matches was one the Liverpool star would have been proud to score.
It's a wonderful combination of balance and vision; Djenepo shows incredible strength on the ball for a 143-pound winger in fending off a foul from Oliver Norwood immediately after winning the ball. Djenepo then shakes himself away from Norwood, takes John Egan and Jack O'Connell both out of the play with feints, and delivers a perfect finish past Henderson into the far corner.
1. Son Heung-Min, Tottenham vs. Burnley, Dec. 7: It has been an emotionally exhausting few months for the South Korean international; Son was sent off after accidentally breaking Andre Gomes' ankle with a challenge in September, and while that red card was rescinded, the 27-year-old was again red-carded for kicking out at Antonio Rudiger just before Christmas.
In between those moments, Son has scored a series of absolute blinders for an oft-frustrating Spurs side. The pick of the bunch is his instant classic of a goal against Burnley, with the club's reigning Player of the Season dribbling all the way from the edge of his own 18-yard box into Burnley's before summoning a controlled finish into the corner. It's the sort of goal that might inspire your grandmother to insist on a marriage proposal.
Young newcomer of the season
I put this award together last year to try to create a better version of Young Player of the Year, which inevitably goes to players who have already established themselves as Premier League stars. In an attempt to develop something closer to the traditional American Rookie of the Year awards, players are eligible for this award only if they're 23 or younger at the beginning of the season and haven't played 1,000 or more minutes at this level before the 2019-20 campaign. The latter rule notably eliminates Tammy Abraham from consideration, although plenty of other Chelsea players are candidates. In fact, three Chelsea players unsurprisingly make this list, starting with ...
5. Mason Mount, MF, Chelsea: While Mount's production has slowed after a remarkable start to the season, the 20-year-old has emerged as a significant creative force and a player who could eventually become the next Frank Lampard in the service of his skipper. Mount excelled under Lampard at Derby last season, so it's no surprise that the former Chelsea star called on Mount as a key contributor to start the campaign. Mount responded with four goals in his first eight Premier League starts.
He has quieted down since then, adding one goal and two assists across his ensuing 1,005 minutes of football. He has created 31 chances this season, more than any other player at or below Mount's age. Lampard has generally stuck with Mount when healthy, even given the logjam of creative players Chelsea have playing behind Abraham. In all, Mount has generated 7.8 expected goals plus assists through Jan. 1; the only players 20 or younger who have been more productive in the big five European leagues so far this season are Victor Osimhen, Kylian Mbappe and Jadon Sancho.
4. Fikayo Tomori, CB, Chelsea: The other Chelsea starlet who impressed on loan at Derby, Tomori was the Championship club's Player of the Season last year. Tomori has taken the next step forward with his parent club, earning his first England cap and signing a long-term deal to stay at Stamford Bridge. He clearly has been Chelsea's best option at center-back and ranks fourth in the league among center-backs in adjusted tackles made for every 1,000 touches by opposing players. Tomori can still stand to improve some in the air, but he's a very promising center-back prospect.
3. Emi Buendia, FW, Norwich City: Norwich have stuck with the open, attacking style that won them the Championship last season, and while they're likely to go down as the current 20th-placed team in the Premier League, they've won more than a few admirers. Buendia, who was signed to replace James Maddison after the English star left for Leicester, has been the focal point of their attack from the right wing.
The list of players who have created more chances than Buendia's 62 in the Premier League this season is short: Kevin de Bruyne. That's it. Buendia is tied with Son for third with seven Premier League assists and he doesn't neglect his defensive duties. Buendia has blocked a league-high 42 passes this season and famously dispossessed Nicolas Otamendi to set up Norwich's third goal in their win against Manchester City. Norwich might go down, but I don't think Buendia will be joining them in the Championship.
2. Caglar Soyuncu, CB, Leicester: Who thought Leicester would sell Harry Maguire and get better at the back?
The Foxes have allowed 19 goals in 21 matches after replacing Maguire and aging former captain Wes Morgan with Jonny Evans and 23-year-old Soyuncu. When Leicester sold Maguire, it seemed likely that the club would either sign a replacement or hand the job over to fellow prospect Filip Benkovic, who had impressed on loan at Celtic while Soyuncu was playing for Leicester's reserves. Instead, Soyuncu stepped in and made an immediate impact.
While the Turkish international is still learning, few defenders in the Premier League have his mix of size and speed or his ability to close down attackers. Soyuncu has won 77.8% of his aerial battles in the defensive third, which ranks sixth among Premier League center-backs. He's also fifth among players at his position in ball recoveries and third in successful tackles. After fending off interest in Maguire for two years before selling him for a club-record fee to Manchester United, Leicester are playing the same game with Soyuncu.
1. Christian Pulisic, FW, Chelsea: You've heard of him, right? It took Pulisic some time to earn Lampard's trust and get into the Chelsea team, but after scoring a hat trick on Oct. 26, Pulisic was a regular in the lineup before Lampard rotated the team during the holiday fixtures. Three of Pulisic's five goals came in that match and he has no assists to this point, but Pulisic has generated 0.71 expected goals plus assists per 90 minutes this season, which ranks 11th in the league among players with 1,000 minutes or more played. While Pulisic's first couple of months on the bench were agonizing for American fans, the 21-year-old superstar is doing just fine.
Team of the season
I'll have to make some tactical tweaks and move players around to fit everyone I want in the starting XI here, but given the talent on display, I don't think anybody will mind. We're playing a 4-2-3-1, and as you might suspect, plenty of our players are wearing red ...
GK Martin Dubravka, Newcastle: One of those players is not Alisson, who narrowly misses out while playing behind a dominant back line. Dubravka, on the other hand, has had more to do than any other keeper this season; he leads all Premier League keepers in saves (87), saves caught (12) and saves in the box (64). Dubravka has allowed 33 goals, but he's ninth in save percentage and seventh in forcing the opponent to underperform its expected goal totals. Even during Wednesday's 3-0 loss to Leicester, Dubravka was arguably Newcastle's best player on the pitch. He's the biggest reason Newcastle aren't in more of a relegation fight right now.
RB Trent Alexander-Arnold, Liverpool: Let's start with one of the most remarkable players in Europe. Alexander-Arnold has created 59 chances from right back this season; the only other defender in the big five European leagues to create more than 32 is Digne. Alexander's eight assists, 6.35 xA and 10.27 expected goals and assists are also well ahead of any other defender in a major European league. He has become yet another playmaker for a club who, quite frankly, need to share with the rest of the division.
CB James Tarkowski, Burnley: Tarkowski has been absolutely essential for Burnley this season; he ranks third among center-backs in both percentage of duels and tackles won behind Van Dijk and Vertonghen, who has played nearly 700 fewer minutes than Tarkowski. Tarkowski is also third among center-backs in clearances out of his own defensive third and ranks in the top 10 for interceptions per 90 minutes and interceptions per 1,000 touches. Tarkowski's goal is to make it into the England team for the upcoming European Championship; on this form, it'll be hard for Gareth Southgate to keep him out.
CB Virgil Van Dijk, Liverpool: You were expecting somebody else? The only center-back to win a higher percentage of his aerial duels this season is Jan Vertonghen, and while Liverpool hardly need Van Dijk to score, he has added three goals this season. I'm not sure I need to explain this one too much.
LB Lucas Digne, Everton: Digne and Andrew Robertson are in a bruising competition to determine the league's best left-back. I narrowly gave Robertson the nod last year, so I'm leaning slightly in the opposite direction this time around. Digne has completed 67 passes into the box for a struggling Everton side, which is second among Premier League defenders this season and fifth among all players. He hasn't scored after chipping in four goals a year ago but Digne has created 46 chances to Robertson's 30. We could very easily have four of the first five players in this team come from Liverpool, which says a lot about the rest of the league's chances of keeping up.
CM Wilfred Ndidi, Leicester City: While the 23-year-old doesn't cover quite as much ground as N'Golo Kante did during his Premier League-winning season with Leicester, Ndidi is about as defensively dominant as Kante was during his breakout campaign. The Nigerian paces all players with 84 tackles and 7.25 tackles per 1,000 opposing touches this season. His 4.75 interceptions per 1,000 opposing touches also top the Premier League. With Maddison and Tielemans bombing forward, Ndidi is the perfect counterbalance. Anything attacking from Ndidi is a bonus, but he has added two goals for Leicester this season.
CM Kevin de Bruyne, Manchester City: Thankfully back from his injury-hit 2018-19 campaign, de Bruyne has been the most valuable creative force in the league this season. His 12 assists are four more than any other player in the top flight, while the only other player with more combined goals and assists is Jamie Vardy, who also takes Leicester's penalties. De Bruyne doesn't take spot kicks for City but does just about everything else. What a player.
FW Raheem Sterling, Manchester City: Second in combined expected goals and assists behind Marcus Rashford, it's a bit of an upset that the City star has picked up only one assist in 2019. Of course, given that he has created 32 chances from open play this season, I suspect the 4.6 xA Sterling has generated this season suggest his teammates have let the England international down with their finishing.
The days where people would try to claim that Sterling wasn't an effective finisher, thankfully, are numbered. Sterling has scored 11 goals against 11.7 xG this campaign. Going back through the start of last season, Sterling has 28 goals against 26.5 xG. He's still somehow in his age-24 season. Critics are running out of things to invent that Sterling can't do or hasn't done; next on the list, realistically, is winning the Champions League.
FW Mohamed Salah, Liverpool: Salah isn't leading the league in goals (as he did in 2017-18) or expected goals (as he did last season), but this is just a boring, ho-hum season in which the Egyptian superstar has 10 goals and 10.5 xG in 1,442 minutes. Using a post-shot xG model, which accounts for where a shot is placed, Salah has been the third-most productive scorer in the league behind Vardy and Rashford.
FW Sadio Mane, Liverpool. Bobby Firmino is neck-and-neck with Mane. Firmino has 14.1 expected goals and assists in 1,629 minutes; Mane has 15.6 expected goals and assists in 1,586 minutes. Mane has been way more productive in terms of on-field results, though, producing 11 goals and six assists to Firmino's six goals and four assists. Mane has 10 goals from open play to Firmino's three. Mane also has created 36 chances to Firmino's 23.
Fundamentally, this leaves us in a quandary. Mane and Sterling both play on the left. Salah plays on the right. Firmino, who plays in the middle, should probably be in here for one of the three attackers. I can't bring myself to take any of them out, which means I'm going to move Salah to the center and let Mane and Sterling pick sides. If you want to sub Firmino in for Mane or Salah, you can.
ST Jamie Vardy, Leicester City: After Leicester won the title, I wrote that the club should have sold Vardy to Arsenal after his career season, given that he was a 29-year-old striker coming off of an outlier season who relied heavily on his pace and work rate.
Well, I was wrong. Leicester held on to Vardy and while he continued to play at a high level, the English international has hit new heights. Just days away from turning 33, Vardy has scored 17 goals in 19 matches for Leicester, four more than any other player. Vardy also leads the league in goals from open play and post-shot expected goals. He has been absolutely lethal for Leicester, and even though the Foxes have scored five goals in two wins with Vardy away from the team and caring for his newborn daughter, it's difficult to imagine Leicester launching any sort of challenge for Europe without their star striker. He might be the most irreplaceable player in the top flight.
Substitutes: Alisson (Liverpool), Ricardo Pereira (Leicester City), Caglar Soyuncu (Leicester City), Declan Rice (West Ham United), Jack Grealish (Aston Villa), Roberto Firmino (Liverpool), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United)
Player of the season
5. Sadio Mane, FW, Liverpool: I went back and forth between Mane and Sterling here; honestly, I would rather have made this a top six than leave either one of them out. Between the two of them, though, Mane has been more effective in terms of actual production, while Sterling has been better in generating expected production. Mane has created more chances and been more efficient in 86 fewer minutes than the former Liverpool star. Again, you could easily put Sterling here and I wouldn't argue.
4. Jamie Vardy, ST, Leicester City: The league's top goal scorer. Rashford has generated a league-high 14 expected goals, putting him more than two goals ahead of anybody else in the league, but Vardy has 14 goals from open play to Rashford's eight. Abraham, who narrowly missed out on the substitutes bench for the Team of the Season, is the only other player in the division with more than 10.
3. Trent Alexander-Arnold, RB, Liverpool: The arrival of Van Dijk has freed up Alexander-Arnold to be a creative force while simultaneously making it a less notable story. Liverpool's defense has unquestionably improved after Van Dijk's arrival, but one of the other key reasons Liverpool has morphed from a very good team into the best side in the world, though, is that Alexander-Arnold has developed into a devastating attacker. When the big three has an off night, Alexander-Arnold is always surging forward to create opportunities that weren't really there during that Salah season. Liverpool's spending £76 million to sign the best center-back in the world was a pretty smart idea. Developing arguably the best right-back in the world at the same time has somehow gone under-reported in the process.
2. Virgil Van Dijk, CB, Liverpool: It's telling that we're still counting the individual players and instances when an opposing attacker has dribbled past Van Dijk. The total is now four in two-plus seasons, including a whole season without a single player dribbling past Van Dijk during the 2018-19 campaign. By a tiny margin, you might argue that Van Dijk and the Liverpool defense were better last season than they have been through the first half of 2019-20, but Van Dijk is still well ahead of the pack.
1. Kevin de Bruyne, CM, Manchester City: While Liverpool are unquestionably a deeper and more talented team than City at this point, there's just nobody in the Premier League who bosses a game from midfield at this point like de Bruyne. The former Chelsea trainee simply does everything you would ask from one of the best players in the sport. He scores world-class goals. He creates chances for other players; de Bruyne's 73 chances created are 11 more than any other player has created this season. De Bruyne has made 101 successful passes into the box this year; Alexander-Arnold is at 102 and nobody else has topped 75.
De Bruyne moves anywhere and everywhere and is a threat to score or create a scoring opportunity from just about anywhere in the attacking third. About the only hole you can poke in de Bruyne's game is that he's not a great tackler, although he's certainly willing to try. As good as Liverpool are, the only thing they might lack is a box-to-box midfielder as good as City's talisman.