How’s that for a stop-start beginning of the year? Amidst the backdrop of match postponements continuing from December, the African Cup of Nations and one of the most unusually timed international breaks in recent memory, the Premier League was something of a sideshow in January 2022.
Not too much changed near the top of the league in January, with Manchester City maintaining a big lead despite the team’s winning run coming to a halt with a draw at Southampton. The same couldn’t be said of the relegation zone, though, where Norwich City managed to do the near-unthinkable and climb out of the bottom three for the first time in months. The likes of Wolverhampton Wanderers and Leeds United each enjoyed a terrific start to 2022, whereas Watford fell into ever deeper trouble.
With some teams playing as many as four league games last month and others only taking to the field once, choosing a fair and accurate XI is a bit tricky, but here are our picks for the players who shone the brightest during the sixth month of this Premier League season.
Team of the Month: January 2022
GK: David De Gea (Manchester United)
We begin between the sticks with a goalkeeper who is becoming an increasingly familiar face in the weekly and monthly plaudits this season. David De Gea, who has reasserted himself as one of Manchester United’s most valuable assets this season, was once again in top form for the Red Devils.
Across the four matches he played in, De Gea saved 21 of the 25 shots on target he faced, achieving a save percentage of 84% and also keeping a clean sheet in the last-gasp victory over West Ham. Like a few of his displays this season, his performance against Brentford was simply sublime, with a number of fine saves helping United escape with a victory.
Question marks hanging over him in recent years seem to have abated; just where would Manchester United be this season without him?
RB: Nelson Semedo (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
In the midst of the mixed fortunes that Premier League teams have endured throughout this short month, Wolves have certainly emerged as the big winners of January 2022, and wingback Nelson Semedo continued to play a big part in their success.
The former Barcelona man played every minute of Wolves’ successful month, helping the side to three wins from three and just two goals conceded in the league, neither of which came from open play. A typically dynamic modern fullback, Semedo has also been effective going forward, with his slick 1-2 with Joao Moutinho against Brentford resulting in the opening goal of a 2-1 victory, as well as Semedo’s first league assist of the season.
A fine string of displays from the Portugal international.
CB: Max Kilman (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
Moving from the right hand side of the Wolves defence to the centre, we find a defender who has improved greatly this season but who seemingly continues to fly beneath the radar. For Max Kilman, it has been another quietly impressive month, with the defender helping Wolves achieve three straight victories, recording five tackles, seven interceptions, and six blocks in the process.
A leading light in a backline that enjoyed an exceptionally strong month, Kilman also contributed at the other end of the pitch, when his header against Southampton rebounded off the post and into the path of Conor Coady for a simple finish.
Kilman’s days of being the junior member of the Wolves’ backline seem to be slipping into the rear view, with the centre back now proving himself to be as good as any defender at the club.
CB: Aymeric Laporte (Manchester City)
Manchester City’s long winning run may have come to an eventual halt, but the league leaders’ defensive record remained exceptionally strong in January, conceding just twice in total across three fixtures played.
This time however it was not the usual figure of Ruben Dias, but instead fellow centre back Aymeric Laporte who played the biggest role in steering City through the month. Although it got off to a shaky start when the Spain defender nearly scored a comical own goal in the victory at Arsenal, Laporte hardly put a foot wrong from that point onwards, playing every minute of Premier League action and helping City keep a clean sheet in the titanic clash with Chelsea.
Not only that, but Laporte also earned his third league goal of the season with a bullet header in the 1-1 draw at Southampton. A reasonably strong season so far really went up to the next level for Laporte in January.
LB: Andrew Robertson (Liverpool)
It’s no secret that a considerable portion of Liverpool’s strength lies in their fullback pairing, and despite only seeing a very brief month of Premier League action, left back Andrew Robertson outshone the league’s other top fullbacks.
He may have only played twice in January, in part due to serving a suspension from a red card accumulated just before Christmas, but Robertson managed to provide three assists, as well as helping Liverpool earn a clean sheet against Brentford at Anfield. His pinpoint cross to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in that very game epitomised the attacking threat he offers from the left hand side.
A lot of the praise this season has gone to Robertson’s full back partner Trent Alexander-Arnold following an impressive resurgence, but January served as a reminder that Robertson is just as important to this powerful Liverpool team.
CM: Joao Moutinho (Wolverhampton Wanderers) (C)
We’ve given plenty of plaudits to the Wolves defence already in this XI, but the team’s successful run was powered by plenty of ambition at the other end of the pitch as well, and one player who ran the show at both ends of the pitch was central midfielder Joao Moutinho.
The veteran midfielder was in exceptional form for Wolves, and his pinpoint strike against Manchester United on January 3rd gave the team a long-awaited victory at Old Trafford to start the year in the very best way possible. He later netted and claimed an assist against Brentford to give Wolves yet another win on the road.
At 35, Moutinho remains central as ever to Wolves’ play, and is our choice for the January Premier League player of the month.
CM: James Ward-Prowse (Southampton)
It was a decidedly mixed month for Southampton, who, after seeing their first game of the year at home to Newcastle be postponed, achieved a record of one win, one draw and one defeat in January.
However, the team were excellent in the assertive win over Brentford and draw with league leaders Manchester City, and unsurprisingly James Ward-Prowse was the key influence behind both. He claimed an assist for Bednarek’s goal against the Bees with a pinpoint corner, and later scored perhaps the greatest free kick of the Premier League season in the Saints’ defeat to Wolves.
The Southampton captain also recorded seven tackles, nine interceptions and ten blocks over the course of the three matches, underlining his lesser appreciated defensive work-rate in addition to his set-piece expertise.
CM: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)
Moving back to Manchester now, and although the brilliant Kevin De Bruyne has endured a bit of a mixed season so far by his exceptionally high standards, the Belgian began 2022 in red-hot form for Manchester City to help the team retain a healthy lead at the top of the Premier League table.
In a finely balanced clash against Chelsea, the midfielder scored a genius solo goal against his old club to hand City a 1-0 victory and likely end the Blues’ title challenge. A week later against Southampton, De Bruyne went from match-winner to saviour when his pinpoint free kick was headed in by Aymeric Laporte to earn City a point on the South Coast.
When he’s in this kind of form, there really is nobody better in Premier League football.
CAM: Jack Harrison (Leeds United)
We may only be one month into the new year, but things are already looking a bit brighter for Leeds United, who swept away a dreadful final two months of 2021 by beginning 2022 with two wins from three.
Whilst the team are looking better as a collective, there can be no doubting the star performer behind Leeds United’s resurgence; attacking midfielder Jack Harrison. Having enjoyed a very strong debut season in the Premier League last season, Harrison finally netted his first league goal of this campaign in the Whites’ 3-1 over Burnley in early January.
The goal in that match clearly gave him a huge confidence boost, and the midfielder went on to score a magnificent hat-trick against West Ham, the first by any Premier League player in nearly three months, and in the process steered Leeds their best result of the season so far.
A very encouraging month for both him and Leeds United.
CAM: Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United)
Another month has gone by and Manchester United are still yet to establish any notable consistency in this Premier League season, with the Red Devils clocking up two wins, a draw and a loss in January.
On the bright side though, attacking midfielder Bruno Fernandes certainly looked much improved in January, significantly upping his attacking output. The Portugal international got on the scoresheet against Aston Villa, and whilst this was largely down to a goalkeeping mistake by Emiliano Martinez, it gave Fernandes the confidence to bag another later on in the game with a fine finish. From a brace of goals against Villa, Fernandes went on to claim a brace of assists in the victory over Brentford.
A much-needed boost to Fernandes’ season, you feel like these performances could be the catalyst to get him back to his best.
ST: Jarrod Bowen (West Ham United)
Last but not least, up front we have West Ham’s Jarrod Bowen. Whilst we know that he technically isn’t a striker, he did at times take up the position of a traditional striker in January, and also outshone most other Premier League frontmen over the course of the month.
Bowen netted three times in January, including a matchwinning brace against Norwich City as West Ham’s top four dream remained intact.
Having been the Hammers’ best player during the Christmas period, Bowen has retained a high level into the new year, with many now asking the question if an England call-up could be on the cards. If he plays like this much longer, it’s not too outlandish to suggest that he might well be considered for the March internationals.
Manager: Bruno Lage (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
We finish, as always, with the month’s best manager. With only one manager achieving a perfect record in January, this was a relatively easy choice; Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Bruno Lage.
We’ve already mentioned Wolves’ defensive solidity throughout the month, conceding no goals from open play, and it was on these strong foundations that their historic win against Manchester United was achieved. In the later victories over both Southampton and Brentford, Wolves were able to do something they haven’t done too much of this season and bare their teeth a bit more going forward, winning 3-1 and 2-1 respectively.
Now unbeaten in five, this strong form early on in 2022 suggests that Bruno Lage’s ideas at Wolves are now beginning to filter through to the players, and he’s now set his side up for what could be an excellent second half of the season.
Manchester City and England fan. Writer of opinion and features on all things Premier League and beyond.