With the club on the brink of a first Ligue 1 title since 1994, Paris Saint-Germain dominated the end of season Union Nationale de Footballeurs Professionnels (UNFP) awards nominations with six players included in the four top-flight categories. Those awards include Ligue 1's player of the year, young player of the year, goalkeeper of the year and coach of the year. That is three nominations more than the second best-represented side, Coupe de la Ligue winners Saint-Etienne.
- PSG trio up for Ligue 1 Player of the Year
The decisions will be announced on May 19 and with PSG charging towards a first title in 19 years, the capital club look set to dominate the gala event. There is strong competition for a number of the categories though with Saint-Etienne and Marseille also boasting claims to some of the titles. Looking at PSG's representation though, they seem the most likely to sweep a number of the prestigious gongs.
Firstly, Carlo Ancelotti's side look a certainty to inherit Eden Hazard's Ligue 1 player of the year award from last season. Les Parisiens have three players in the four-man category, with 27-goal striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, irrepressible midfielder Blaise Matuidi and defensive colossus Thiago Silva all in the running for the award. The sole representation from outside the capital comes in the form of Saint-Etienne's prolific marksman Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who helped Les Verts end a 32-year wait for a trophy with the Coupe de la Ligue.
The Gabonese star, who has been linked with a move to PSG in the summer, is unlikely to be able to beat off the attentions of Ibrahimovic who has enjoyed a stellar first season in France. Twenty-seven goals in the league alone, not to mention six assists, have made the Swede the capital club's star performer this season despite a number of impressive campaigns from his teammates. At times the talismanic striker has carried PSG single-handedly to victory in league games, and Les Rouge-et-Bleu's seven-point lead in the title race heading into the last three weeks is down to his goals to a large extent.
The other main contender for the award though could be French international Matuidi who has enjoyed a sensational year in the PSG midfield. Starting the season on the substitutes' bench against Lorient, the 26-year-old has become an integral part of Ancelotti's side and has earned rave reviews all season long for his consistency, tireless hard work and crucial goals. Brazilian defender Silva is arguably the least fancied for the award by virtue of his position in defence, but that should not take away from potential recognition for the 28-year-old's superb first season in Ligue 1. Ancelotti recognised last season that the team's defence needed work and Silva's arrival has coincided with a 20 goal improvement in the team's goal difference from 41 conceded last term, to 21 conceded to-date.
In the young player of the year category, Marco Verratti is PSG's sole representation to succeed Montpellier's Younes Belhanda for the award, but he is faced with sterner competition than Ibrahimovic, Matuidi and Silva. Up against Belhanda's supremely gifted teammate, Remy Cabella, Lille's dynamic 19-year-old French left-back Lucas Digne and his soon-to-be-teammate Florian Thauvin of Bastia who has been an absolute revelation in Corsica, the Italian international is less fancied in this category.
The diminutive 20-year-old is undoubtedly one of the league's top talents and a tremendously gifted player who will, in time, become a key player in this PSG side if the capital club elect to persevere with the former Pescara man. But he has one major drawback and that is his temperament. A recent red card against Evian and a nasty spat with coach Ancelotti as a result has tainted his image somewhat in recent weeks. Although his sublime form in the first part of the season cannot be overlooked, post-Christmas he has been unable to maintain that high standard. An award at this time would probably do more harm than good as the player and his coach need to get a handle on his temper before his potential can be truly recognised.
His Italian international teammate, Salvatore Sirigu, should have no such problems in terms of disciplinary, although he was recently reprimanded for his role in the ugly scenes in Annecy. Instead, PSG's custodian is likely to be punished for Ancelotti's side's defensive prowess as an improved goals against total means that Sirigu has been less busy than his title rivals. That said, he did manage to go 949 minutes without conceding a goal this season, breaking former PSG goalkeeper Bernard Lama's record of 697, and the club's clean sheet record currently stands at 22 matches. Instead, former PSG keeper and current Bastia netminder Mickael Landreau, Marseille's French international Steve Mandanda and Saint-Etienne's Stephane Ruffier are more likely candidates.
Coach Ancelotti looks likely to enjoy success in the coach of the year category, though, as he is on the verge of ending the capital club's 19-year wait for a Ligue 1 title. If PSG do complete the formalities, the Italian would be a worthy winner, having fought back from the brink of losing his job in December after a poor run of results, including back-to-back home defeats to Saint-Etienne and Rennes, to lead his side to within touching distance of a first title since 1994. It also might be his last action as PSG boss with rumours continuing to link him with an end of season move to Real Madrid, although recent doubts have been cast over the move's feasibility.
Ancelotti's competition comes in the form of bitter rivals Marseille and their coach Elie Baup who, although in charge of PSG’s most sworn of enemies, has done a fantastic job to take a broken OM side from 10th in the table to second, and is on the verge of returning them to the Champions League. Saint-Etienne's Christophe Galtier is also a worthy candidate, having led Les Verts to a first trophy in 32 years with the Coupe de la Ligue, as well as seeing his vibrant, entertaining side also on the cusp of qualifying for Europe's top club competition.
A thought should also be spared for the fourth candidate though, Nice boss Claude Puel, who has worked a minor miracle on the Cote d'Azur. He has taken last season's relegation battlers from an eventual 13th-placed finish to competing for European qualification in his first season in charge. His transformation from the coach who was sacked by Lyon with his reputation almost irreparably damaged, to once again being one of the league's most enterprising coaches, as he was with Monaco and then Lille, will likely not get the recognition it deserves this time.
PSG can realistically expect to sweep at least two of the categories, and could even take a third, though a clean sweep would be unlikely and slightly undeserved. That said, it has been a superb season in the French capital and the team will enjoy some deserved credit come May 19.
One glaring omission from the UNFP though: there was no Rosbif de l'Annee (Roast Beef of the Year) award which would have pitted PSG's David Beckham against Marseille's Joey Barton. We'll just say that Becks wins that one ;)