What a difference a month makes. Following the almost comically inconsistent form and unexpected results of teams expected to be challenging for the title in the first half of the season, it seems that we finally have a frontrunner in the form of Manchester City, who finished January with a 100%-win rate and several records broken.
Unsurprisingly, City swept the Premier League’s monthly individual awards that were given last week, but they weren’t the only team to catch the eye throughout the league table, as success and pitfalls near the other end of the league saw the bottom three also become firmly defined for probably the first time this season.
January maybe highlighted the clearest difference yet of which teams are moving forward and which are stagnating, but which players have stood out the most in their team’s successes?
Team of the month in Premier League – January 2021
GK: Bernd Leno (Arsenal)
After a miserable run of results that lasted up until Christmas, Arsenal’s end of year revival continued into January, with the Gunners enjoying an unbeaten month and picking up a total of 11 points from 15.
In this string of comparatively impressive results, a lot of credit should go to goalkeeper Bernd Leno. Probably Arsenal’s player of the season so far, the German conceded just one goal in five fixtures throughout January, and particularly made some important saves in the goalless draw with Crystal Palace when the rest of his side were suffering from an off night.
Just where would his side be without him this season?
RB: Joao Cancelo (Manchester City)
For the second month in a row, Joao Cancelo waltzes into our XI at right back, a testament to his excellent and fiercely consistent form. Operating more on the right than the left lately and frequently bedding into the midfield, Cancelo has been part of a side who conceded just once in six games, the Portuguese fullback playing in five of those triumphs.
His rapidly developing relationship with Ilkay Gundogan has been a vital part of City’s recent attacking output, and Cancelo even provided an assist for the German and scored one himself in City’s 5-0 drubbing of West Bromwich Albion.
A team of the season contender, perhaps?
CB: Ruben Dias (Manchester City) (C)
Lots of credit has been going to John Stones lately, and rightly so, but the real star of the show in Manchester City’s sparkling defensive form, particularly in January, has been Ruben Dias.
Having settled into English football astonishingly quickly, the Portugal centre back played every minute of City’s near-perfect defensive run in the first month of 2021, achieving a brilliant five clean sheets in the process and being the captain of our XI.
Make no mistake; Dias is City’s main man at the back and most reliable figure already, and it is scarcely believable that he is just 23.
CB: Lewis Dunk (Brighton and Hove Albion)
Outside of the race for the title and Europe in the upper echelons of the league, Brighton quietly enjoyed an exceptional and potentially season-defining month.
Having won just twice between September and December, the Seagulls doubled their number of victories in January and unsurprisingly, captain Lewis Dunk was at the heart of it. The defender scored in an entertaining 3-3 draw with Wolves and went on to help his side pick up clean sheets in three of the four remaining January fixtures.
Brighton are starting to drive a firm wedge between themselves and an increasingly stagnating bottom three, and its no surprise to see Dunk leading the way for them at the back.
LB: Luke Shaw (Manchester United)
It was something of a mixed month for Manchester United, whose ambitions of a whole-hearted title charge didn’t quite seem to materialise. In spite of their pitfalls, particularly at the back, the performances of Luke Shaw at left back have provided reasons for optimism.
The signing of Alex Telles seems to have provided extra motivation for Shaw this season, with the England defender performing impressively in recent weeks, helping his side achieve three clean sheets from a possible six. Combine that defensive solidity with an increasingly growing desire to get forward and contribute at the other end, and it seems that we may finally be seeing the best of Luke Shaw in the North West.
CDM: Ilkay Gundogan (Manchester City)
How about that for a glittering run of performances from Ilkay Gundogan? With star midfielder Kevin De Bruyne picking up an injury mid-month, Ilkay Gundogan has maintained his stunning form to calm any nerves over at the Etihad. The Germany international scored five times in January, with late bursts into the box becoming a trademark of both his and Manchester City’s play that has been vital to their astonishing run of form.
It’s no surprise to see he was given the official Premier League player of the month award, and he seems to be showing no signs of letting up; a new potential candidate for PFA Player of the Season?
CDM: Tomas Soucek (West Ham United)
Speaking of goalscoring central midfielders, it’d be impossible not to mention Tomas Soucek, who is cementing himself as a cult hero not only to the West Ham faithful but to fans of the Premier League as a whole.
An almost unrivalled aerial threat and an absolute nightmare for opposition defenders at set pieces, Soucek chipped in with three goals in January and put in some strong performances in the heart of midfield.
The Hammers are unexpectedly tiptoeing towards European qualification for next season, and it seems that in Tomas Soucek, they may have an equally unexpected driving force to take them there.
RAM: Matheus Pereira (West Bromwich Albion)
Although West Bromwich Albion’s form failed to take much of an upturn in January under the new leadership of Sam Allardyce, attacking midfielder Matheus Pereira stood out as a rare bright spark for the Baggies. The Brazilian scored four goals for the West Midlands side in January, including two successful penalties in a potentially crucial win over bitter local rivals Wolves.
Pereira has more often than not been the difference maker in West Brom’s attacking play this season, and regardless of his side’s fate this season, you would almost certainly bet on other Premier League teams offering Pereira a route back into the top flight should the Baggies succumb to relegation.
CAM: James Maddison (Leicester City)
Amidst the chaotic ever-changing scenario with regards to the top four, Leicester are a rare example who have managed to hover around the Champions League spots quite consistently all season. With Jamie Vardy enduring a slight dip in form, the Foxes have James Maddison to thank for keeping the blue wheels turning near the top of the table.
The England midfielder hit some of his finest form yet this season during the month of January, providing three goals and one assist from the number 10 position, as Leicester picked up a commendable 10 points from 15 games.
Competition for places in this summer’s England squad will be tight, but Maddison really is laying down a marker here.
LAM: Bukayo Saka (Arsenal)
What a truly special talent Bukayo Saka is. Now becoming more and more of a key player in Mikel Arteta’s plans, the 19-year-old had a very impressive month indeed, bagging three goals and an assist and playing a central role in Arsenal’s dramatic upturn in form.
He is now the top scoring teenager in the league this season with five goals, and seems to grow more and more into each game, whether from the left-hand side of the right. These are very early days yet, but we could be witnessing an exceptional star in the making here.
ST: Alexandre Lacazette (Arsenal)
As much as Saka has rightfully claimed credit in recent weeks, a lot of praise should also go to Alexandre Lacazette, whose efforts have led to a battling revival in form. The French striker continued where he left off in late December by scoring three times in January, and also assisting one of Saka’s goals.
The two have been combining exceptionally well to bring some much needed goals back to the Gunners’ attack, and with Lacazette firing again it at least takes some of the burden off his strike partner, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and may point to a better second half of the season for Arsenal.
Manager: Pep Guardiola (Manchester City)
Manager of the month is usually quite a difficult choice, but following a run of results in which Manchester City have flattened everything in front of them, this month it was anything but. Pep Guardiola’s light blue juggernaut seems to be going into overdrive once again, as they have done so often in recent years, claiming six wins out of six and conceding just once in the process.
This turnaround in defensive form has been nothing short of spectacular and has provided the bedrock of City’s title charge, even in the absence of a regular goalscoring striker. If Pep can go all the way with this side without an out-and-out striker, which certainly seems possible given his side’s form in January, then it could well be his finest title win yet.