The latest round of Premier League action brought thumping victories for both Liverpool and Manchester United, the champions winning an away top-flight fixture by a seven-goal margin for the very first time before the Red Devils thrashed old rivals Leeds.
Everton brought up a third consecutive victory by inflicting more misery on struggling Arsenal, whilst Aston Villa cruised to a Midlands derby victory over West Brom as Sam Allardyce’s first game in charge of the Baggies ended in defeat.
Following another weekend of thrilling contests we’ve picked out some of the Premier League’s leading performers, here are eight stars who shone bright in gameweek 14:
Gary Neville compared Scott McTominay to former Manchester United icons Roy Keane and Paul Scholes following the midfielder’s sensational start to the Red Devils’ 6-2 win over Leeds, becoming the first player in Premier League history to score twice inside the opening three minutes of a fixture.
The Scotland international has most often been utilised as a trusted defensive player under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, with the Norwegian appreciative of the energy and security that the 24-year-old brings to the engine room.
McTominay showed against Leeds, however, that his relentless running and athleticism can offer his side a new dynamic in attack, surging forward against the open visitors to devastating effect.
McTominay opened the scoring with a crisp effort from just outside the penalty area after being teed up by Bruno Fernandes, before powering into the box to collect Anthony Martial’s pass and finish superbly.
The midfielder continually carried the ball forward in possession with purpose and helped himself to an assist after laying on Daniel James’ goal, a complete box-to-box showing for a player who demonstrated there are significantly more strings to his bow than people often give him credit for.
There’s a bounce back in the play of Roberto Firmino who has enjoyed a week to savour with Liverpool, following his last-minute winner against Tottenham in midweek with a starring display in the Reds’ seven-goal destruction of Crystal Palace.
Jurgen Klopp has backed the player to the hilt in recent months amid a concern over a lack of goals, his continued faith in Firmino repaid handsomely this week with the Brazilian back to his best.
Firmino scored twice at Selhurst Park with his first capping a wonderful counter-attacking move, collecting Andy Robertson’s cross and finishing superbly following a quick-fire breakaway from the visitors.
The 28-year-old had earlier provided an assist for Sadio Mane before taking his tally to five goals for the season, lifting a delightful dinked finish over the goalkeeper after being played in by Mohamed Salah.
Roberto Firmino's game by numbers vs. Crystal Palace:
100% shot accuracy
5 ball recoveries
2 touches in the opp. box
2 fast breaks
1 chance created
Oozes class. pic.twitter.com/08CdgqHUSI
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 19, 2020
Klopp has long insisted that goals are just a small facet of what Firmino offers the side as a whole, but the return of the star’s goalscoring touch bodes well for the champions who were in irresistible mood in the capital this weekend.
Just a matter of months ago and it appeared that John Stones was heading towards the Etihad exit door, the defender having fallen down the pecking order at Manchester City following the summer signings of Ruben Dias and Nathan Ake.
Stones struggled for form and fitness last season but has enjoyed a renaissance during the current campaign, his strong showings having coincided with an upturn in performances for City who are now unbeaten in their past eight games in all competitions.
Stones has helped keep eight clean sheets in just 10 appearances for Pep Guardiola’s side this season, with the England international excellent alongside the impressive Dias as City secured a hard-fought 1-0 win at Southampton this weekend.
The 26-year-old was a commanding and calming presence at the heart of the defence at St Mary’s, making four clearances, two interceptions and winning three aerial duels in addition to completing 91% of his passes.
📊| John Stones for #ManCity this season:
👕 10 games
⛔ 8 clean sheets
❌ 0 errors leading to chances
✅ 93% pass success rate pic.twitter.com/n6aSRbsiVb
— City Chief (@City_Chief) December 20, 2020
The errors that plagued his game have been all but removed during the current campaign so far, Stones having not made a single mistake that has led to an opposition chance this season.
It was the latest encouraging performance from Stones in a testing clash on the South Coast, a display that is unlikely to have gone unnoticed by Gareth Southgate as he finalises his plans ahead of next summer’s European Championships.
Everton enjoyed a productive window of recruitment following the additions of James Rodriguez, Allan and Abdoulaye Doucoure, before leaving it late to secure the signing of Ben Godfrey from Norwich on deadline day.
It has proven a sensible late acquisition following the defender’s progress in recent weeks, helping compensate for the loss of several established figures to produce a series of strong showings.
Godfrey has excelled in an unfamiliar left-back role and has now helped Everton to three vital victories in succession, Carlo Ancelotti’s side beating Chelsea, Leicester and Arsenal to move into the Champions League places.
Ancelotti praised the performance of Godfrey during the latter victory over Arsenal this weekend, hailing the 22-year-old as an ‘intelligent’ and ‘tactically top player’ following his displays as an auxiliary left-back.
— Everton (@Everton) December 20, 2020
The England U21 international dealt with the threat of the tricky Nicolas Pepe well and provided the Toffees with an outlet, Godfrey full of energy and desire and quickly becoming a popular figure on Merseyside.
The defender was greeted with a huge roar following a full-blooded challenge on Dani Ceballos, the sort of will-to-win moment that can cement a player as a firm fans’ favourite.
Leicester will spend Christmas in second place in the Premier League courtesy of a weekend win at Tottenham, Brendan Rodgers’ side rewarded for their ambition with a vital three points in north London.
Whilst Jamie Vardy provided nightmares for Spurs’ centre-backs and James Maddison floated around the pitch dangerously, it was Wilfred Ndidi who led the Foxes’ charge with a domineering display in the centre of the park.
The Nigerian international stopped and spoiled the home side’s attacks in signature fashion, anchoring the midfield superbly and finishing the clash with an incredible 19 recoveries – the most by any player in a Premier League fixture in more than a year.
Wilfred Ndidi made 19 (NINETEEN) recoveries against Tottenham, the most any player has made in a single Premier League in over a year.
An incredible performance. 👏 pic.twitter.com/gDdu0vNSok
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 20, 2020
Ndidi was firm in the challenge and won three tackles in addition to two making interceptions, whilst his composure in possession was evidenced by a pass completion rate of 94%.
There are few midfielders in the division who can match the 24-year-old’s athleticism and tactical intelligence, Ndidi a pivotal figure for Leicester who will be delighted to have seen the midfielder return to full fitness in recent weeks.
Daniel James has endured a frustrating time at Manchester United with his initial bright start having faded sharply, his presence on the team sheet against Leeds causing surprise and leading to predictable groans from the social media vultures.
James has become a much-maligned figure but vindicated his inclusion against Leeds in some style, his speed and sharpness causing the wide-open visitors all kinds of problems at Old Trafford.
The Welsh international’s pace on the break was a fixture of the Red Devils’ attacking play as the home side exposed Leeds’ naivety and shortcomings, whilst James was rewarded for an effervescent display with a first Premier League goal of the season.
The 23-year-old turned sharply after collecting Scott McTominay’s driven pass before firing home, his celebration a picture of relief following a tough time for James in recent months.
Good day at the office😁❤️ pic.twitter.com/GNVHKxfPkl
— Daniel James (@Daniel_James_97) December 20, 2020
Unfortunate to pick up a booking after wrongly being accused of simulation, James will now hope to kick-on from this performance as he bids to revitalise his career at United, his electric pace offering a different attacking option for a side who have often thrived on the counter-attack.
There has been plenty to admire about Aston Villa’s start to the season and their summer signings, though it’s fair to say Bertrand Traore’s return to the Premier League has failed to ignite thus far.
Traore has come in for criticism following a series of below-par showings since his £16m arrival from Lyon during the summer, but produced his best performance in an Aston Villa shirt as the architect behind their 3-0 win at West Brom this weekend.
Traore looked dangerous throughout and provided the opener for Anwar El Ghazi with a pinpoint deep cross towards the back post, before scoring his first league goal for the club with a composed finish from just outside the penalty area.
It was nerveless finish passed into the bottom corner and a reminder of the quality Traore can provide, and the 25-year-old will now hope for more regular involvement after making just four league starts so far this season.
This finish was 𝗖𝗢𝗟𝗗. 🥶
Bertrand Traoré's first Premier League goal for Aston Villa! 👌 pic.twitter.com/jSaGOM997F
— Aston Villa (@AVFCOfficial) December 21, 2020
His tendency to hold onto possession too long can be frustrating, but he has the ability to create openings for Villa and provides a unique option amongst Dean Smith’s attacking contingent.
Andy Robertson remains one of the most consistent players in the Premier League and a hugely important figure for the champions, the full-back outstanding once more as Liverpool scored seven without reply at Crystal Palace.
The Scotland captain was typically industrious and determined in his defending, coping well with the forward threat of the Eagles in the opening exchanges and timing one superb challenge on Jeffrey Schlupp inside the penalty area.
Robertson is arguably the most complete left-back in world football and his creativity is fundamental to the Reds’ attacking play, bursting forward in typical lung-busting style and providing an assist for Roberto Firmino after a rapid breakaway from the visitors.
It was the 26-year-old’s fifth assist of the season and 35th since signing for Liverpool three-and-a-half years ago, the star moving into the all-time top five assist-providing defenders in Premier League history.
No player has provided more Premier League assists since the start of the 2018-19 season than Andy Robertson, level with Kevin De Bruyne on 28.
He's a left-back. 🤯 pic.twitter.com/JUU8bGdmcW
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 19, 2020
Given that two of those players – Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young – spent much of their career further forward it is an even more impressive feat, Robertson trailing only Leighton Baines and Graeme Le Saux amongst out-and-out defenders.
Roberton’s latest assist also means that no player in the Premier League has provided more goals than the Liverpool left-back since the start of the 2018/19, his 28th assist seeing him move level with Kevin De Bruyne.