With less than three months to go until the end of the Premier League season, fans have been buoyed by the hope that they may be able to attend matches in limited numbers once again before the curtain falls on this peculiar season.
For the time being though, the final outcomes of the 2020/21 Premier League are starting to take shape, with Manchester City looking nailed-on for the title once again following a flawless February. Fear not though – there is plenty of excitement still to come, with the European qualification spots still providing a hugely entertaining tug of war, and the gap between the bottom three and the rest of the league shrinking rapidly after seemingly being cut adrift just a few short weeks ago.
Team of the Month – Premier League – February 2021
In keeping with the delightful unpredictability of the Premier League, particularly this season, there are a few surprise names in the latest edition of Team of the Month.
GK: Emiliano Martinez (Aston Villa)
Kicking things off as usual with a goalkeeper, it is Emiliano Martinez who claims the spot between the sticks for February, for the second time this season.
Despite beginning the month with a poor game by his standards against West Ham, the Aston Villa goalkeeper bounced back superbly to claim three clean sheets in the month’s remaining four matches. Excellent performances against Arsenal and Leeds United came to either side of a stunning man of the match display against Brighton mid-month, arguably the finest by a goalkeeper in the league this season.
There weren’t too many standout goalkeepers in February, but Martinez’s displays made him an easy selection once again.
RB: Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)
Following the sudden arrival of Thomas Tuchel into Chelsea’s managerial hot seat, the Stamford Bridge outfit are already benefitting from a considerably improved defensive record, conceding just twice in five matches.
For all the changes for the Blues, it was the old reliable Cesar Azpilicueta who drove Chelsea’s improved form at the back. The Spanish international has captained his side and played an integral role in earning clean sheets against Tottenham, Newcastle and Manchester United, also making a match-high number of tackles and interceptions against the Magpies.
From nowhere, Chelsea’s top four hunt is back on track, and it is no surprise that that has coincided with Azpilicueta’s timely burst of form.
CB: Joachim Andersen (Fulham)
From seemingly down and out, Fulham set themselves up for a real shot at Premier League survival with a magnificent February, particularly with their rivals still struggling just above them.
The Cottagers’ rapidly improving defensive record is a hugely positive sign for them and is largely down to the form of Joachim Andersen. As well as captaining his side to four clean sheets out of a possible six and two vitally important wins, the Dane also registered an assist in the 1-1 draw with Burnley.
What’s more, the stats show that Fulham’s rate of goals conceded per game this season has dropped by over half with Andersen in the side. A real emerging talent in West London.
CB: John Stones (Manchester City)
In a month where Manchester City’s position in the title race went from a healthy lead to a seemingly unbreachable iron grip at the top of the table, the City backline continued its irresistible form, which John Stones was once again at the heart of.
Stones played five league matches in February, helping his side earn three clean sheets, and proving his flexibility in a partnership by shining alongside both Ruben Dias and Aymeric Laporte. A strikers finish sealing yet another win for the Citizens over a tricky West Ham side rounded off another excellent month for the England centre back.
Although Stones had something of a late start to the campaign, could a spot in the PFA Team of the Season beckon for City’s number 5?
LB: Ola Aina (Fulham)
It seems that Fulham’s defenders haven’t just turned a corner at the back, but are also contributing to a greater goal return for the team going forwards as well.
Left-back Ola Aina was one in particular who played an integral role at both ends of the pitch in a potentially season changing month for Fulham. In addition to helping his side achieve three clean sheets by playing in a number of positions in the backline in recent weeks, the Nigeria international also assisted the opener against Everton and scored his side’s goal in the draw with Burnley.
This run of form couldn’t have come at a better time for him or his team.
CDM: Ruben Neves (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
In what has been a pretty inconsistent season, February saw something of an upswing for Wolverhampton Wanderers, and it is of little surprise that their talismanic midfielder Ruben Neves was the stand-out individual.
Wolves’ number 8 got off the mark for the season in spectacular style by scoring three times in February, also chipping in with one assist as the West Midlands side enjoyed an unbeaten month.
Always in the thick of it, as evidenced by his excellent performance against Leicester, Neves now also seems to be helping to fill the attacking void left by key striker Raul Jimenez. Still such a promising young footballer.
CDM: Rodri (Manchester City)
It is natural that much of the praise directed at Manchester City’s defensive form will inevitably go to the backline, but they’ve definitely been helped by the consistently dominant performances of Rodri in front of them.
Having featured in five Premier League matches in February, Rodri paraded his usual style of silk and steel in some spectacular victories for the league leaders, playing a huge role in the wins over Liverpool and Tottenham.
Not only that, the Spaniard also scored his first goal of the season in the win over Spurs, with a penalty to Hugo Lloris’s right hand side – the first one that he had ever taken in his career. Not a bad way to start!
RAM: Jesse Lingard (West Ham United)
How about that for a rebirth? Players at this level don’t always get a shot at career revitalisation but for Jesse Lingard at West Ham, the first few weeks have been a dream beyond even what he could’ve wished for.
The on-loan attacking midfielder has already bagged three goals and an assist for his new club, in the space of just five games where the Hammers picked up a fantastic ten points out of fifteen.
With Lingard coming in to provide the additional firepower at just the right time as West Ham chase Europe, his career is suddenly back on track in the blink of an eye. An excellent move for both parties.
CAM: Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United) (C)
Although Manchester United endured another mixed month in the league, Bruno Fernandes was once again the consistency amidst the inconsistency – a common theme of his first full season at the Red Devils.
Four goals and three assists is another spectacular monthly haul for the United star, especially in the space of just five matches. His regular contributions at least helped his side to strengthen their grip on the Champions League spots, as several of United’s European rivals continued to falter somewhat.
If Manchester United are to take a proper crack at the Premier League title, it is very obvious by now that Fernandes – who goes down as out player of the month – is the man they should build their team around.
LAM: Ilkay Gundogan (Manchester City)
After scooping the official award for Premier League Player of the Month in January, Ilkay Gundogan demonstrated few signs of slowing down as Manchester City flawlessly tore through February.
The German midfielder’s trademark late runs into the box continued to be the brightest spark in City’s attacking firepower, as he netted twice in his side’s overdue and potentially season-defining win at Anfield, before scoring another brace just days later in the triumph over Tottenham.
Having emerged almost out of nowhere, Gundogan is playing the best football of his life and powering this team towards the title.
ST: Michail Antonio (West Ham United)
It’s of very little surprise that West Ham’s magnificent form since the turn of the year has coincided with a return to form and fitness for striker Michail Antonio, having dipped a little bit without him.
Strong, intelligent, and a handful for any defence, West Ham’s main man contributed two goals and two assists in February, playing an important role as the Hammers continued to climb the table and dream of a spot in Europe.
If he manages to maintain this kind of form and fitness, who is to say that West Ham can’t achieve that dream?
Manager: Pep Guardiola (Manchester City)
Although a number of teams impressed in the second month of 2021, for the manager of the month it’d be hard to justify anything other than a second successive victory for Pep Guardiola.
100% records are extremely rare in this league, and to achieve it in back to back months really is unique, especially without the consistent presence of a regular striker. Six consecutive wins for the Sky Blues was enough to widen a modest lead at the summit to a gaping chasm, with the team’s annihilation of bitter rivals Liverpool at Anfield being the crown jewel of Manchester City’s performances this season.
Once again, Pep’s ingenious tactics seem to have left every other team chasing City’s coattails.