After a week of this nonsense, I reckon yet another introduction's unnecessary. Don't worry, there's only one more week left. On Monday, we'll start revealing the results, starting with Young Player of the Year on Oh You Beauty. And because I'm sure you're starting to get sick of us, we'll have some guest commentary for each of the categories from Mike Georger of Avoiding the Drop, Amy Quinn of A Football Report, Gareth Roberts of Well Red Magazine, and James T of Unprofessional Foul.
Also, I probably shouldn't have stolen my own thunder by over-writing certain entries for Performance of the Season, seeing how three of the five candidates are in both categories. C'est la vie. Stop me if you've heard this one before...
Dirk Kuyt: Poor during the Hodgson era, but at his best with Dalglish. Which pretty much sums up Liverpool. Kuyt, more than any other player, is very good when the team is very good (see: 2008-09 or Netherlands in the World Cup), and fairly bad when the team is fairly bad. Four goals from August through December, 11 since the New Year – which ties his highest single-season goal return in a Liverpool shirt. His hat-trick against United and archetypal false nine performance at Chelsea create the inference that Dalglish just has him playing in his "correct" position as striker. Yet by my count, since the King was rethroned, six of his goals have come when playing up front, with five as a midfielder. Penalties (of which he has four, and never seems to miss) are evenly split between the two positions. And even when Kuyt's playing poorly, he brings more to the team than he takes away. He thrives in big games. He tracks back incessantly, running himself into the ground for 90 consecutive minutes. He's Liverpool's top scorer and is tied with Meireles for most assists. It's no surprise Kuyt's one of the first names on the team sheet under every manager he's played for.
Lucas Leiva: Less than a year ago, Lucas was the favorite scapegoat of more than a few Liverpool fans. The manager who brought him to England was ignominiously fired. He nearly had been pushed out the door during the summer by an incompetent managing director attempting to play fantasy football. And he was initially replaced in Liverpool's starting XI by Christian Fucking Poulsen. No matter. Every single one of those slights was added inspiration, and the 24-year-old (yeah, still just 24) was consistence personified while everything else around him crumbled to dust. Only Reina and Skrtel have more appearances this season. Now under Dalglish, the Brazilian's remained an ever-present – starting 21 of the King's 22 games – and is the midfield hub where Liverpool's attacks begin and the opposition's go to die.
Raul Meireles: His absence against Tottenham, and Liverpool's subsequent loss, demonstrates just how valuable Meireles is to the team. Noel wrote an excellent summation of that importance earlier this week (and I'm not just saying that because he organized this blog carnival); I could crib this paragraph's text from that post alone. Even Liverpool's set plays were dramatically worse without him. The summer's sole transfer success (Shelvey and/or Wilson don't count yet), he's played everywhere in midfield this season. Arguably a jack-of-all-trades yet a master of none, I'm still not sure of his best position, at least in the Premier League. But there's no arguing Liverpool look a different team without his clever vision, nose for assists, work ethic, intelligent movement, runs into the box from midfield, and ability to hit some absolutely gorgeous volleys.
Pepe Reina: Another season with at least 50 appearances (well, 50 after Villa). Another season with 20 or more clean sheets (14 in the league – only Hart and Cech have more). Despite a season and a half where the defense routinely tried to one-up its previous hilarious mistake, Reina reached his 100th league clean sheet in his 198th start, a 3-0 win against Villa on December 6, faster to the mark than any keeper in Liverpool history. I've said it so often it's losing its meaning, but he has no peer in the Premiership. A wholly complete goalkeeper with fewer flaws than the Hope Diamond, and possibly one of the most hilarious footballers ever. That Reina recently restated his intention to remain with Liverpool was the best summer news we could have desired.
Luis Suarez: Boy, Liverpool must have been really terrible for a player who's only made 12 appearances to show up in the best-of-season debate. Well, yeah, they kinda were, but Suarez is also just that good and has been just that important. Four goals and five assists – impressive numbers for a recently-acquired Premier League neophyte – don't close come to telling the whole story. He's turned Liverpool into an entirely different team, and his adaptation was instantaneous. Yes, there are other factors (wave to Dalglish and Clarke), but Liverpool haven't had a player like him in far too long. Nowhere near as unidimensional as the previous goal-scoring menace, Suarez can do things with the ball at his feet other players aren't even clever enough to dream of. He's a Tasmanian Devil wearing cleats coated in super-glue, capable of dismantling four consecutive defenders to set up a crucial opener or scoring from an angle so acute it's almost obtuse and definitely obscene.
• Young Player of the Season
• Signing of the Season
• Best Win
• Worst Loss
• Performance of the Season
• Goal of the Season
• Flop of the Season