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Monday, July 15, 2024

Staff Picks: 2023/24 Player(s) of the Season

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The fans have voted, the players have voted, but The Busby Babe staff has not voted… yet.

This isn’t quite The Busbies, but it’s a bit like the UEFA Europa League equivalent of that.

Anyway, here’s who stuck out to us in a mostly bad year that we get to gloss over with the shiny FA Cup Trophy…

Dharnish Iqbal: Diogo Dalot

Dalot racked up 35 full 90’s seamlessly switching from left to right-back when asked.

An education at AC Milan surely helped.

In an extremely testing season, I’m thinking back to some of the moments I remember from Dalot. The excellent cross delivered right on Mctominay’s head to seal a 2-1 win away at Villa.

The confidence to move into midfield, receive and turn in the games where United’s attack perked up at the turn of 2024.

The gesticulation and encouragement when a goal was overturned due to VAR vs Fulham as he ascertained his teammates to keep going.

All major signs of a player locking down a position, which you have to say at Man Utd is difficult to do.

There always seem to be murmurs of ‘he’s good, he’s shown promise’ only to debate why another member of the team should play instead. In the season of 23/24, Dalot has made sure there can be no such debate.

Colin Damms: Bruno Fernandes

If Manchester United created a chance to score there’s a decent chance this guy was involved somehow.

The club’s Player of the Season award recipient more than deserved the honor for a campaign in which he also faced a lot of criticism in addition to praise. With how much he is on the ball there comes the frustration of turnovers from his high-risk passes and turnovers. It’s understandable, but it’s also necessary. Without the volume, there might have been even fewer goals in an already disappointing season up front for the Reds.

Among attacking midfielders and wingers, Bruno is 94th percentile in shot-creating actions and 98th percentile in progressive carries according to FBRef. In a world where the traditional no. 10 role has faded a bit, he continues to flash greatness and carry United. He does so while also providing high-effort defensive performances by tackling, clearing the ball, and tracking back in a midfield that has mostly been a chasm for opponents to enjoy space and freedom in.

Without Bruno Fernandes, United would be down and out in most games. He’s not always the calm presence on the ball we might like, but he is the fiery and passionate hero ball player who can grab a game and bend it to his will.

Here’s to seeing much more of that in the future.

Pauly Kwestel: Andre Onana

Let’s start by renaming this the “Premier League Player of the Season” as Onana was capital B BAD in the Champions League. If we keep our focus just on the league, it’s a different story.

Domestically Onana got off to a fine start. Not great, but not bad. His performances in Europe greatly skewed the perception. But he kept getting better as the season progressed.

He was fifth best in the league in PSxG-G and while +2.2 doesn’t look all that great, only eight goalkeepers managed to get as high as two. His 21 matches with a positive PSxG-G “only” equals David De Gea’s mark from last season, but 11 times this season that number was higher than 0.8, De Gea only did it four times last year.

That doesn’t tell the full story. Onana faced a historic amount of shots this season. Enough to put any goalkeeper under constant pressure. More often than not, Onana came up big when it mattered. United didn’t score a lot of goals this season. 13 of their 18 wins were by a single goal – far outperforming their xG in those matches. They won those games because they were able to keep the ball out of their net, and considering how often United conceded over 20 shots in those matches he played a big part of that.

United over performed to finish eighth this season. Most xG models suggest they should have finished with as many as 14 fewer points – dropping them to 14th. There’s an argument to be made that singular person who is most responsible for United finishing as high as they actually did is Andre Onana.

Suwaid Fazal: Alejandro Garnacho

Damn you, Colin…again!

Alejandro Garnacho isn’t particularly quick, strong, or skillful. Not skillful? I know that seems a bit harsh but he doesn’t have a bag of tricks like Neymar or young Cristiano Ronaldo, nor does he beat players with guile like Eden Hazard or Lionel Messi.

So what does he have?

He scored his first goal for the club with his weaker foot, so we’ve got someone comfortable with both feet. His goal against Fulham last season showed a remarkable burst of pace. His goal against Everton showed great belief and technique. His goal in the FA Cup was streetwise. These are qualities I love and we got to see more of them this season.

There’s also reason to believe that he’ll get better next year if he continues playing on the right; his underlying numbers are encouraging and his raw numbers aren’t bad at all. Finally, he provided us with two unforgettable moments and didn’t seem too affected by what was happening around him. In a season to forget (for the most part), I think that’s pretty special.

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