With almost no time to draw breath following this year’s unusual two-day split Boxing Day football, the Premier League resumed immediately with the final round of matches of 2020. Due to the ever-increasing impact of COVID on all areas of society including elite sport, it was a Matchday that consisted of only eight games instead of the usual ten, with Everton and Tottenham’s clashes against Manchester City and Fulham respectively being called off at the eleventh hour.
Still, although Matchday 16 wasn’t exactly the most goal-rich set of games we’ve become accustomed to seeing in the Premier League this season, it certainly wasn’t without a number of dazzling performances and eyebrow-raising results, as 2020 drew to a close with the league table looking as fascinating as it ever has.
Stars in Premier League – Gameweek 16
Goalkeeper: Karl Darlow (Newcastle United)
After being blunted in a tame draw against West Bromwich Albion in Matchday 15, Liverpool slipped up again here with a goalless draw at a spirited Newcastle.
It was a solid result for the Magpies, achieved in no small part by the performance of goalkeeper Karl Darlow. One of the busiest but also most impressive keepers in the Premier League this season, the Newcastle stopper made several fine saves against the Reds, winning what seemingly became a personal battle against Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino.
Darlow’s performances are gradually capturing the attention of more and more observers; could an England call up be on the cards in Spring?
Defender: Ben Mee (Burnley)
After some potentially damaging struggles in the early part of the season, things are now looking a lot healthier for Burnley, who managed to finish 2020 with something of a flourish.
A narrow but important win over Sheffield United rounded off their year, and the ever-reliable Ben Mee was the star of the show. The skipper scored the only goal of the game and turned in a disciplined display at the back, as his side achieved their sixth clean sheet of the season.
The Clarets are still struggling for goals, but are beginning to look much more like their usual selves defensively, largely down to a timely and important rise in form from their captain.
Midfielder: Ezgjan Alioski (Leeds United)
The footballing mystery that is Leeds United provided more of their seemingly endless entertainment and surprises in Matchday 16, with a simply astonishing 5-0 win over West Bromwich Albion.
On a day of top class performances all round, the impressively versatile Ezgjan Alioski was arguably the star of the show for the Whites, having seemingly gotten up to speed with Premier League life in recent weeks.
The Macedonian international hammered in Leeds’s second goal to send the Yorkshire side on their way, and gave an energetic, marauding performance down the left-hand side to pile the misery on a deflated West Brom. His upturn in form has been a key factor to Leeds’s impressive run of recent results.
Forward: Marcus Rashford (Manchester United)
Manchester United really have been in some astonishing form in recent weeks, made all the more impressive when considering their below-par start to the campaign. Their victory over Wolves here certainly didn’t come easily, but thanks to Marcus Rashford the Red Devils achieved another vitally important three points.
It didn’t seem like being Rashford’s day, which was the case for several of United’s attacking talents in this game. However, the young forward carved a goal essentially out of nothing right at the death to inspire his team to victory.
Titles are won on key moments like this; how important could it turn out to be for Solskjaer’s side?
Manager: Marcelo Bielsa (Leeds United)
With a performance as emphatic as that, it’s no surprise that manager of the week deservedly goes to Marcelo Bielsa.
A potentially demoralising 6-2 recent loss to Manchester United doesn’t seem to have done the Whites much harm, as Bielsa’s side won by five goals in a Matchweek where nobody else won by more than one.
To see such an incredible level of performance from so many of his players must have been incredibly pleasing for the Argentine manager, who once again reaped the benefits of a brave, high energy approach. Even in a league bursting with managerial excellence, Marcelo Bielsa is still a welcome breath of fresh air.