Our betting expert Jones Knows explains why Ruben Dias should be backed at 12/1 to win the PFA Player of the Year award against Bruno Fernandes.
Jamie Carragher thinks he should win it. Paul Merson thinks he should win it. I think he should win it.
I'm certain many of his peers will think he deserves it.
So, why is Ruben Dias as big as 12/1 with Sky Bet to land the PFA Player of the Year award when it looks a straight shootout between him and Manchester United midfielder Bruno Fernandes?
The market is far too skewed in the direction of the United playmaker, who is a Even money shot with Sky Bet, and when we have a false favourite at the top of a betting market, there's only one thing to do, Jones Knows must strap on those punting boots.
1pt on Ruben Dias to win the PFA Player of the Year award (12/1 with Sky Bet - bet here!)
We have reached the point of the season where players are preparing to vote on who should be crowned PFA Player of the Year - a player running into hot form with the spotlight firmly on them is a key part of trying to predict who will be crowned. Each member of the association votes for two players - a PFA Player of the Year and a PFA Young Player of the Year. Players cannot vote for their team-mates in any category. A shortlist will be announced in April before the winner will be announced at the end of the Premier League season in May.
The way Sky Bet have their market priced up suggests Fernandes is almost home and dry in terms of the winner:
- Bruno Fernandes: Evens
- Ilkay Gundogan: 5/1
- Kevin De Bruyne: 11/1
- Ruben Dias: 12/1
- Harry Kane: 12/1
- Jack Grealish: 12/1
- Mohamed Salah: 14/1
- Phil Foden: 16/1
- Heung-Min Son: 16/1
It's hard to argue against the Manchester United maestro being a leading contender - his numbers since joining from Sporting Lisbon are quite frankly ridiculous. But can we really overlook a Manchester City player for this type of award?
Pep Guardiola's team are on the verge of running away with the Premier League title, in a style that revolves centrally around their imperious defensive play. Now, it's perhaps not the sexy option to vote for a player with outstanding defensive capabilities but defensive-minded players do win this award, two in the last four years, in fact; Virgil van Dijk (18/19) and N'Golo Kante (16/17).
Since Dias joined from Benfica, City have taken their performances to another level. His effect on this team being able to win trophies is absolutely massive. As Carragher wrote recently: "Based on the criteria the award should go to someone who has had the single biggest impact on the destiny of the Premier League title. That makes Dias the current frontrunner."
I wholeheartedly agree.
City's staggering brick wall defence
Dias is part of a defence that is statistically the best in all of Europe's top leagues. City have conceded just 15 goals this season.
The Portugal defender was in brilliant form once again on Super Sunday as his man-of-the-match display helped City to a 15th clean sheet in their victory over Arsenal. Sky Sports' Jamie Redknapp called him "phenomenal" in the aftermath while Gary Neville awarded him the man-of-the-match award.
City's defence are on the verge of doing something no team has achieved in Premier League history. Another clean sheet this weekend at home to West Ham would make them the first team to concede as little as four goals in 18 straight Premier League games. Arsenal (1998/99) and Manchester United (2008/09) managed to concede just four goals in 17 games, but no one has put such a deadly defensive run together.
When looking at their overall average goals conceded, City are working at a 0.6 goals conceded per-game ratio that is on course to put them in the top five best defences over a season in Premier League history.
But what makes Dias' impact on this City team so monstrous, is that he's only played 22 of their 25 games as Guardiola didn't secure his signature until late September. It's amazing to think City have the best defence in Europe despite still conceding five goals in one game against Leicester before Dias' arrival.
Since signing the 'brick wall' as he's now affectionally known, City have conceded just nine goals during his 22 appearances and alongside John Stones, the pair have recorded 11 clean sheets and conceded just two goals in 13 Premier League starts, winning 12 of those matches. With Dias by his side, Stones is no longer a ticking time bomb defender something Sky Sports' Merson has noticed.
He said: "Stones looks back to where we thought he would be, he's looked at Dias and thought about how everyone is going mad about and saying what a great defender he is. He just defends. He is a defender, simple as that."
In terms of minutes per goal conceded, Dias is working at a rate which puts him among the best in Premier League history. On average he concedes a goal every 218 minutes - no player since 2008 to have played at least 20 games for a club has recorded a better return than that.
His sights must be set on catching the Chelsea defenders of their imperious 2004/05 season where Paulo Ferreira, John Terry and William Gallas all recorded sensational individual figures in Jose Mourinho's defence that conceded just 15 league goals that season.
But can defenders win the big award?
It's unfashionable for a defender to win the PFA Player of the Year award, granted.
Yet, when there is an outstanding candidate, votes do go their way. Terry landed the accolade in 2005, highlighting just how important an individual figure at the heart of a defence can be when it comes to the decision making process from the professionals.
More recently, defensive midfield general Kante in 2017 and the imperious Van Dijk in 2019 have landed the awards. The comparison with Van Dijk, in terms of impact on his club, is very relevant when discussing Dias' claims for the top award.
When analysing the 22 games played by City in the Premier League before Dias signed, it is clear his influence has made a huge impact on City's ability to stop goals going in and therefore winning matches. City conceded 0.8 goals per game before Dias and are now averaging just 0.4 goals conceded. In that 22-game period without Dias they lost five matches, with him they have fallen to just one defeat - a 2-0 reverse at Tottenham in November, which was the last time they were actually behind in a Premier League game.
"I look at Ruben Dias and think, wow!" Merson said.
"Did you ever see Man City conceding the least amount of goals in a season in this league? I think he's starting to get the reputation of someone like Virgil van Dijk.
"When you watch him now, I think players are fearful of him. They get him in a one on one situation, and they think they cannot get past him. He's got that fear factor.
"At the moment, I can't look past him for player of the season. It's a team game and you've got to pick a player from the team that's won it. You never get man of the match from a losing team.
"That's why I'm going with Dias. He has made Man City a far better team than what they were last season."
Big-game invisibility may cost Bruno
Dias has to sway the voters away from Fernandes in order to grab the top award and land us a 12/1 winner.
Some would say that is a tough ask as his international team-mate is recording sensational numbers this season for United. The headline figures of 15 goals and 10 assists in 25 appearances make impressive reading and his all-around influence on what Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team do is absolutely massive. Fernandes has taken United to another level, no doubt.
"He is doing his job and doing it unbelievably well," said Merson.
"All he can do is create chances and score goals, and that's exactly what he's doing, but he can't defend all at the same time. He's not the one letting in soft goals every now and then. He can only keep doing his job to the best of his ability and he has carried a massive football club on his shoulders. That takes some doing, believe me."
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However, it's very easy to poke holes in Fernandes' impact when it really matters for United, particularly in big Premier League matches.
One of the main reasons United have not kept the pace with rivals City in the title race is their record in matches against teams competing for the top six. Solskjaer's side are winless in their seven fixtures this season against traditional 'big six' teams and Leicester, with Fernandes seemingly going missing when the big occasion arrives. As you can see from the table below, he has managed one goal, one penalty and one assist in 630 minutes of action against such opponents.
His individual performances in those games is summed up by the player ratings awarded by Sky Sports' team of journalists on the match in question. In those seven games, he's averaged a combined player rating of just 5.3, showcasing just how little he has impacted those type of matches.
On the flip side, Fernandes is most certainly bringing Player of the Year territory performances against the lesser teams in the Premier League. As seen by the graphic below, every single aspect of his game trends upwards against teams outside the big six and Leicester. Something backed up by the rise in average player rating for his performances which results in a very healthy 7.1 figure.
That nagging doubt about Fernandes being a flat-track bully does make it tough to get too excited about his chances of winning the major award with the current odds available.
It will surely to be hard for the voting professionals to pick against a player from a club that is cantering towards the Premier League title with the potential to break defensive records in the process.
There was a feeling at Manchester City they would never see the like of Vincent Kompany again when he hung up his boots. Well, not only have they replaced him they may just have surpassed him.