Fresh from sealing a first Ligue 1 title since 1994 on Sunday, Paris Saint-Germain could be set for further glory after the National Professional Footballers’ Union awards candidates were announced last week.
The capital club dominated the award nominations and will no doubt expect to sweep up at a glitzy ceremony on May 19.
Three PSG players made it into the prestigious player of the year category, with only Saint-Etienne’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for competition.
There was also representation across all of the other categories.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whose 27 league goals and six assists have helped Ancelotti’s side to the title, is the leading candidate for the award that was won by Chelsea’s Eden Hazard (then at Lille) last season. In a remarkable first season in France, he has led PSG almost single-handedly at times to crucial domestic victories.
Blaise Matuidi is another favourite to take the gong. He has been a revelation at the heart of Ancelotti’s midfield, starting the season on the bench against Lorient and finishing it as an indispensable member of the side. The Italian has selected the French international more times this campaign than any other player thanks to his irrepressible form, tenacity and crucial goals.
Thiago Silva is perhaps less fancied but still a worthy candidate. The Brazilian’s arrival at the Parc des Princes has coincided with a 20-goal improvement in the defence on last season, conceding only 21 goals so far this term compared to 41 last year. He has already stamped his authority on the side and taken control of the captain’s armband and has played a big role in PSG’s defensive solidity.
Aubameyang, though, has not been nominated as a token gesture, though. The Gabonese international is fully deserving of recognition from his peers after a superb campaign that has seen him bag 19 league goals and eight assists. The big question from last season was whether Auba could replicate his stunning form this time around and he has done better than that. The 23-year-old has already eclipsed that total by three goals with two matches left to play.
But despite being dominated by Les Parisiens’ representatives, two highly impressive talents have surprisingly been left out of the nominations in this category. Lorient’s Jeremie Aliadiere, who has enjoyed a sensational season with the Breton club, scoring 15 league goals and notching seven assists, is the leading French goalscorer across France and indeed the top European leagues.
Marseille’s Mathieu Valbuena is also unlucky to miss out on a nomination. In some of the best form of his career to date, the French international has scored three league goals but laid on 11, including five for rejuvenated striker Andre-Pierre Gignac. OM pushed PSG as far as they could and it was in part thanks to the 28-year-old’s good form that they were able to prolong the title race this late.
This category will less likely produce a winner for Les Rouge-et-Bleus. Italian sensation Marco Verratti is up for the award, and if he had maintained his stellar form from the start of the season, he would no doubt sweep the title. However, the youngster has had severe disciplinary problems this season and an award now would simply deflect attention away from a serious problem for the Italian international and the club going into the future.
There is no doubt that, in time, the 20-year-old will become a key player for the capital club, but an award at this stage would do more harm than good. Verratti’s recent spat with Ancelotti following his red card at Evian demonstrates a massive lack of respect and maturity, and the former Pescara prodigy needs to get this in check before continuing to blossom.
That is no such problem for a number of the other talents who made the list. Bastia’s Florian Thauvin, who will join Lille at the end of the season, has been in exceptional form in his debut top-flight campaign. The 10 goals scored in 24 starts in Ligue 1 by the 20-year-old attracted the attention of a host of top European sides according to Sky Sports, but Thauvin made the sensible decision to remain in France and joined Lille instead.
Lille’s Lucas Digne is faced with a similar dilemma; the 19-year-old is the subject of serious interest from Liverpool (via French Football Weekly), but as a candidate for Young Player of the Year, would be better served staying for another year of guaranteed first-team football with Les Dogues.
The Frenchman has made his breakthrough this season with two goals in 29 starts from left-back and is a huge asset at the back and going forward as he marauds down the left.
Montpellier’s Remy Cabella is the final candidate on the list. He has been one bright spark in a dull season for last season’s champions and has also been linked with a move away (via Sports Mole).
Although it seems more likely that last season’s winner of the award, teammate Younes Belhanda, will be the player to make way. The Frenchman’s seven league goals and six assists in 24 starts helped La Paillade revive a faltering season and almost challenge for European qualification.
The next category has become a bit of a nonsense this season.
PSG’s Salvatore Sirigu has made the list of nominations by virtue of PSG’s 23 league clean sheets and counting, but the reality is that the Italian has been less busy than he was last season despite setting a new unbeaten record of 949 minutes without conceding a goal.
Instead, arguably the best goalkeepers in the league this season (who play for struggling teams) have been overlooked. Reims’ Kossi Agassa and Troyes' Yohann Thuram-Ulien both failed to make the list despite being the most consistent performers this campaign.
OK, so maybe they don’t have the same number of clean sheets that other rivals Steve Mandanda and Bastia’s Mickael Landreau boast, but Mandanda suffered a horrible first half of the season and Landreau currently plays for mid-table Bastia, who are hardly a team known for their shutouts.
Leading us to the final and likely most contentious category: Coach of the Year.
PSG’s Carlo Ancelotti leads the list for the sole fact that he has steered the capital club to a first league title in 19 years, but there are arguably some more deserving candidates in terms of sole coaching achievements.
The Italian has succeeded in uniting a squad of highly talented individuals to produce a Championnat victory since 1994, but some would say that it was expected of him with the quality of squad put in front of him. However, if you consider the moving parts of the PSG politics, it actually makes his achievement all the more impressive.
Saint-Etienne’s Christophe Galtier too is an outstanding prospective winner, leading Les Verts to a first trophy in 32 years with the Coupe de la Ligue and taking the club to the verge of Champions League qualification.
Then what about Marseille’s Elie Baup? He has taken a Marseille side that could only finish 10th in the league under now-France coach Didier Deschamps, and ensured a return to Europe’s top table after only one season away. Not bad for the man seen as France’s equivalent of Peter Reid.
Arguably better than all three, though, has been Nice’s Claude Puel. With his reputation in tatters 12 months ago after an acrimonious end to his time at Lyon, Puel has turned Les Aiglons into Champions League qualification hopefuls one season after they narrowly avoided relegation. The former Monaco and Lille boss has also overseen a youthful revolution on the Cote d’Azur that will be the envy of many Ligue 1 sides in the seasons to come.
The awards will be handed out on May 19, and PSG are expected to sweep a number of the titles even if there are some other worthy claims.