No surprises as Leeds United's star man takes top prize in 2021 YEP awards while Manchester City win lives on

It has been a year of ups and downs for Leeds United and head coach Marcelo Bielsa.

By Joe Urquhart
Tuesday, 28th December 2021, 6:00 am

In the summer the club secured a stunning ninth-place finish at the first time of asking in the Premier League following 16 years away from the top flight.

As the year comes to an end, though, recent months have proved more challenging with Leeds sitting five points above the drop zone and battling a huge injury list heading into the January transfer window.

We asked Yorkshire Evening Post readers to hand out the awards for 2021 on a whole and cast their votes on the goings on at Elland Road over the past 12 months. Here are the results...

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Leeds United winger Raphinha. Pic: Getty

Player of the Year - Raphinha

Perhaps recency bias is at play but you cannot argue with the stats the wide man has produced.

Raphinha has played 35 Premier League games in total across 2021, scoring 12 goals and providing eight assists.

His form at the latter end of the 2020/21 campaign helped Leeds into the top half while his ability to take the weight of pressure this season has helped United keep their head above the top flight trap door.

The Brazilian earned a little over 50 per cent of the vote ahead of Illan Meslier, Patrick Bamford, Stuart Dallas and Kalvin Phillips.

Bamford - who has nine goals and seven assists in 28 top flight games this year in total - possibly saw injury take him out of the running for this one.

The more eye-catching impact of Raphinha's performances may have played a role ahead of others but the 25-year-old is more than a worthy winner.

Young Player of the Year (21 or under) - Illan Meslier

There could only ever be one winner for this category.

Meslier set a Premier League record in April by becoming the youngest goalkeeper to keep 10 clean sheets at the age of 21 years and 54 days.

The French stopper enjoyed a stellar breakout year in 2020 and has followed it up by cementing his place as one of Europe's brightest young talents in between the posts.

Eight clean sheets in 37 top flight games throughout 2021 doesn't tell the full story, given his highlight reel and importance to Leeds.

Despite his modest age, he is arguably the most reliable goalkeeper Leeds have employed over the past 20 years.

He earned a huge 90 per cent of the vote ahead of second-placed youngster Joe Geldhart.

Result of the Year - Man City 1-2 Leeds

It had to be, didn't it?

Of all the wonderful Bielsa-ball performances put in by Leeds over the past year it is a smash and grab that takes this award.

Perhaps it is the opponents or the fashion in which the points were accrued - but it is a game that will long live in the memory of Whites fans around the world.

In April, newly-promoted Leeds travelled to champions-in-waiting Manchester City.

Pep Guardiola's outfit had blown away the competition behind closed doors but defeat to Leeds put an element of doubt into the title race.

United took an unlikely lead through Stuart Dallas three minutes before half-time but captain Liam Cooper was given a controversial red card in first half stoppage time after VAR review.

Backs to the wall, Leeds held on with a resolute defensive display until the 76th minute when Ferran Torres finally levelled proceedings.

The rest, as they say, is history. A lung-bursting run in added time caught frustrated City off guard and the 10 men of Leeds toasted a win they could barely believe.

Another landslide in this category, with a little over 80 per cent of the vote.

Goal of the Year - Stuart Dallas (second) vs Man City

Emotion over beauty on this one and it ties nicely with the previous award.

Dallas latched onto a through ball from Gjanni Alioski and sent supporters wild wherever they were watching on, shrugging off the challenge of John Stones to slide the ball home past onrushing Ederson.

It wasn't pretty - like Luke Ayling's strike at Manchester United or Patrick Bamford's at Leicester City - but it was one of the most celebrated throughout 2021, earning 70 per cent of the vote.

Signing of the Year - Dan James

A category that comes with a huge asterisk next to it.

No senior signings in January meant only summer additions were up for this award.

Dan James, Junior Firpo, Jack Harrison (loan to permanent) and Kristoffer Klaesson were the new faces to arrive in LS11 in the last window.

It is fair to say it has been a mixed few months for all involved - up and down form along with disappointing results has been a major factor.

James takes the award with 75 per cent of the vote but more time is required for everyone on the shortlist to make a bigger impact at Elland Road.