Amidst the rapidly changing scenario for football fans and the UK at large over the past few weeks, the Premier League soldiered on throughout the uncertainty, serving up its usual December feast of football.
The pressures of broadcasting meant that some ritual events of the footballing calendar, such as the usual ten boxing day matches, looked a little different this year. Despite numerous other difficulties, such as the brief reappearance and then the disappearance of fans at a number of Premier League grounds, December did at least give us one positive outcome that has been lacking in recent years; the building blocks for a real, hotly contested title race. Here we look at 11 players who shone during the busiest and most fascinating month of the footballing calendar.
Team of the month in Premier League – December 2020
GK: Emiliano Martinez (Aston Villa)
Aston Villa enjoyed another fruitful month of football, in what is turning out to be an exceptionally bright season for the West Midlands side.
The presence of the unflappable Emiliano Martinez between the sticks was a key driving force behind Villa’s excellent December, and indeed their season so far in general. The Argentine kept four clean sheets out of a possible five during the month, conceding just once in that time
Having now kept a total of eight clean sheets in the league this season, Martinez has proven to be perhaps the greatest signing of the summer, and arguably the goalkeeper of the season so far.
RB: Joao Cancelo (Manchester City)
After a rocky autumn, Manchester City tightened up their defence superbly in December, also earning four clean sheets from a possible five.
A lot of praise has been given to the central defenders, but Joao Cancelo has also been enjoying some stellar form of his own out on the right hand side. The Portugal international played superbly in December, operating successfully on both sides of the defence and providing robustness that has helped City progress regardless of other difficulties in the fullback department.
It seems that Cancelo has found his feet after a difficult first season, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for his side.
CB: John Stones (Manchester City)
We mentioned the focus and praise being given to Manchester City’s centre backs, but the revival of John Stones has been quite extraordinary.
Throughout the month Stones went from being a rotational starter to one of the first names on the team sheet. Form and composure seem to have returned to his defending, putting in fine displays alongside partner Ruben Dias in a number of matches, most notably in away games to Southampton and Manchester United.
Stones’ upturn in form has been a decisive factor in City’s impressive gaining of momentum, an incredible turnaround for a player who seemed to be on the fringes just weeks ago.
CB: Ben Mee (Burnley)
There was much concern for Burnley following a very poor start to the campaign, but the Clarets have lessened some of those fears by enjoying a much more successful December.
The Lancashire side recently started to display their familiar disciplined defending, and it’s no surprise that captain Ben Mee was a big part of this. Mee led a Burnley side that won eleven points from six games and kept three clean sheets, with the defender himself even scoring the winning goal against Sheffield United.
LB: Ben Godfrey (Everton)
During an interesting month on Merseyside, Everton arrested their recent slump and replicated some of their early season form to put together a string of excellent results.
The Toffees’ record of three clean sheets in five during the month was partially due to the growing role in the team of new left back Ben Godfrey. Filling in for the injured Lucas Digne, the defender put in several strong performances to help his side pick up thirteen points from a possible fifteen, and will now surely be difficult to dislodge from the side regardless of Digne’s fitness.
LDM: Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa (Fulham)
In a month where their form appeared to begin to turn a corner, Fulham’s Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa put in some of his best performances yet in the Premier League.
A number of strong displays in the heart of midfield from the Cameroon international helped Fulham’s defensive record improve considerably in December, conceding just four goals in five matches.
That’s not all Anguissa offers, either; he has completed more take-ons than any other midfielder in Europe’s top five leagues this season, highlighting his crucial importance to this team in all aspects of their play.
RDM: Tomas Soucek (West Ham)
He just scores goals for fun, doesn’t he? Although Tomas Soucek wasn’t able to enjoy his usual Christmas holiday at home in the Czech Republic, the midfielder instead spent the time putting in some eye-catching displays for West Ham.
One of the greatest aerial threats around, Tomas Soucek scored three times in December to help his side rescue a point against Brighton and achieve a win over Leeds. He has proven to be a very smart signing for the Hammers, and is even developing into something of a cult hero in East London following his good performances.
LAM: Anwar El-Ghazi (Aston Villa)
In a season of growth and success for the Villans, Anwar El-Ghazi has become the latest player to step into the limelight over at Villa Park. Having not scored all season prior to December, the winger shredded that record by netting five times during the month, including a brace over midlands rivals West Bromwich Albion and a dramatic late winner over Wolverhampton Wanderers.
If El-Ghazi can maintain this kind of form, he’ll be a very valuable asset to his side for the remainder of the season.
CAM: Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United)
Another month, another line of excellent performances from Bruno Fernandes, who can seemingly do no wrong for Manchester United at the moment.
During a run of games in which his side turned up the heat on their title challengers with a record of four wins and two draws, Fernandes was once again in the thick of it, contributing three goals and four assists to his side’s efforts. The Portugal star is inspiring this United side onwards and upwards, and on this evidence, he could well help push this side all the way.
RAM: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)
Liverpool endured something of a mixed month, perhaps somewhat unsettled by the reappearance and equally rapid disappearance of fans from Anfield amidst the ever-changing regulations.
Luckily for the Reds, talismanic forward Mohamed Salah was in great form, as he usually is around this time of year. The Egyptian registered five goals and two assists in six matches to help his side maintain their position near the pinnacle of the Premier League table.
In a season of many injuries for Liverpool, it is so important for them to have Salah fit and firing with these levels of output.
ST: Marcus Rashford (Manchester United)
Bruno Fernandes may be the star man, but he wasn’t the only Manchester United attacker to shine in December. Marcus Rashford, who has steadily grown into the season, really kicked it up a gear in the final month of 2020, scoring five Premier League goals.
Now one of the key men for the Red Devils, Rashford stepped up in clinical style with a last gasp winner over Wolves and a double against Sheffield United as his side began to rapidly climb the table. His flourishing understanding with Fernandes will be enough to intimidate any side in the forthcoming matches.
Manager: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (Manchester United)
It hasn’t necessarily been the easiest ride for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as Manchester United manager, but the Norway legend managed to mark his two years in charge of the Red Devils with a number of excellent results at the end of 2020.
Seemingly on the brink of the sack in early November, Solskjaer has led his side to four wins and two draws in December, an impressive record given the congestion of fixtures during the festive period.
We can’t tell for certain what the future may hold for Solskjaer, but it’s fair to say he may have won over a few of his doubters with this stellar month of results at such a crucial time in the season.