And that’s a wrap. The final whistle of Manchester United’s victory over Burnley on December 30th brought the curtain down on 2021’s Premier League action, and what a year it has been. From marquee signings and a long-awaited takeover at Newcastle United to the return of fans to stadiums and the arrival of a brand new Premier League member in Brentford, 2021 has unfailingly kept us on the edge of our seats.
It was appropriate, then, that the twists and turns were maintained to the last, typified most notably in Leicester City’s shock win over Liverpool, and Brighton’s late draw at Chelsea – results that seem to have handed Manchester City a considerable advantage in the title race.
Despite having to settle for another reduced matchweek of just seven games, there was still plenty of entertainment across the table. Away from the aforementioned results concerning Chelsea and Liverpool, Manchester City made it ten wins in a row with a 1-0 triumph over Brentford, whilst West Ham and Crystal Palace put Watford and Norwich to the sword.
For the last time in 2021, here are our five Premier League Stars of the Week.
Stars of the Week in Matchweek 20
Goalkeeper: Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester City)
After becoming the first goalkeeper in the last 30 Premier League games to keep a clean sheet against Liverpool, it’s no wonder that Leicester City’s Kasper Schmeichel is the man of the moment.
The Dane also became the first goalkeeper in over four years to keep out a Mohamed Salah penalty, ending a run of 15 penalties scored in a row by Liverpool’s Number 11. Schmeichel later made sharp saves from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Virgil Van Dijk, as the Foxes held out to earn their most impressive clean sheet of the season, and perhaps even one of the best of Schmeichel’s career.
Defender: Daniel Amartey (Leicester City)
Whilst Schmeichel enjoyed a strong performance between the sticks for Leicester, a lot of attention also went to centre back Daniel Amartey, who gave an assured and commanding performance against one of the most potent attacking trios in world football.
Just two days after enduring a torrid time against Manchester City in a 6-3 defeat, Amartey was a man transformed against Liverpool, making five interceptions, four blocks and two tackles as Salah and co. struggled to find a way past him.
The Ghanaian’s performances have often drawn criticism this season, but this match was a different story, and Leicester fans will no doubt hope this is a turning point in his form.
Midfielder: Jarrod Bowen (West Ham United)
After enduring some rocky form throughout most of December, West Ham closed the year on a high, coming from behind to dispatch Watford 4-1 on the road.
Jarrod Bowen, one of the protagonists of West Ham’s strong season so far, was the driving force behind this brilliant victory. The midfielder’s perfectly timed through ball was slammed home by Tomas Soucek for the equaliser, and through sheer determination he later won a penalty by taking advantage of a defensive mix-up between Watford’s Daniel Bachmann and Juraj Kucka. After the penalty was dispatched by Mark Noble, Bowen got one final assist by dribbling to the by-line and squaring for Nikola Vlasic, who had a simple finish.
A great night for Bowen and West Ham to appropriately round off a great year.
Forward: Odsonne Edouard (Crystal Palace)
Over at Selhurst Park, Crystal Palace joined London neighbours West Ham by earning an impressive victory to end a run of poor form, sweeping aside bottom-placed Norwich 3-0.
All of Palace’s goals came in the first half, a half that was powered by striker Odsonne Edouard’s finest performance yet for his new club. The former Celtic marksman converted an early penalty won by Will Hughes to give his side the lead. His intelligent run in the 38th minute caught out the Norwich defence, and his pass was converted by Jean-Philippe Mateta to put Palace 2-0 up.
Edouard wasn’t done with the Canaries yet though, as his mazy dribble into the box just before half time eventually broke to Jeffrey Schlupp, who smashed home a finish for 3-0, effectively ending the contest.
Palace are now up to 11th, and with a few more performances like this, Edouard could propel them even higher.
Manager: Brendan Rodgers (Leicester City)
We’ve spoken a lot about Leicester in this piece, but it has been praise that they’ve truly deserved, none more so than manager Brendan Rodgers who masterminded an astonishing victory over his former club.
Despite having to deal with a number of injuries, Rodgers set his team up expertly against the Reds, with every player working tirelessly to keep Liverpool at bay. It was a remarkable transformation from a team who had been on the end of a Manchester City thrashing just 48 hours earlier, against a much fresher Liverpool side who hadn’t played in almost a week.
The Foxes did ride their luck at times, with Salah hitting the bar from his penalty rebound and Sadio Mane missing a guilt-edged chance, but it was luck that Leicester’s valiant defending deserved, as they avenged Liverpool’s dramatic comeback against them in the cup just six days earlier. The introduction of Ademola Lookman early in the second half proved to be the decisive moment.
Overall it was a stunning response from Brendan Rodgers’ team, the Northern Irishman once again silencing his critics with an incredible victory.
Manchester City and England fan. Writer of opinion and features on all things Premier League and beyond.