The Premier League is once again arguably the most competitive major league in Europe, the latest round of action showcasing that no result is a foregone conclusion when it comes to England’s top tier.
Fulham came close to pulling off a huge shock after running the champions ragged at Craven Cottage, whilst Burnley beat Arsenal in a top-flight fixture for the first time in more than four decades at the Emirates.
Elsewhere the Manchester derby proved a drag and Chelsea’s 14-game unbeaten run in all competitions was ended at Everton, though there were important victories for Leicester, Southampton and West Ham in their pursuit of continental qualification.
We’ve decided to pick out some of the Premier League’s finer performers from the weekend’s action, here are seven stars who shone bright in gameweek 12:
James Maddison’s frustrating run with injury proved costly to Leicester’s Champions League charge last season and has seen the midfielder fall out the England reckoning, with Jack Grealish and Phil Foden having moved ahead of the 24-year-old in the race add creativity to the Three Lions’ midfield.
Brendan Rodger’s side spent the majority of last season in the top four before agonisingly falling short on the final day of the season, Maddison missing the Foxes’ final six fixtures with his ability to create chances missed.
This weekend saw the star return to his sparkling best and provide a timely reminder of the qualities he can bring for both club and country, scoring twice as Leicester thrashed Brighton 3-0 to move within a point of league leaders Tottenham.
Maddison’s double was his first for Leicester and showcased the midfielder at his best, arriving on the edge of the box to open the scoring before curling home a superb second following some fancy footwork in the build up.
It’s now three goals and three assists in the Premier League this season, with a further four goal involvements coming in the Europa League in an encouraging return to action for the midfielder.
Maddison will hope that Gareth Southgate has taken notice following his latest performance, as he bids to win favour ahead of next summer’s European Championships.
Fulham were many people’s favourites for relegation following a difficult start upon their return to the Premier League this season, but recent signs of improvement may just prompt a rethink in suggestions they are certainties for the drop.
The west Londoner’s late window recruitment has significantly strengthened the side with the likes of Ademola Lookman, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Joachim Andersen adding quality, though amongst the most intriguing changes at Craven Cottage has been the deployment of Bobby Decordova-Reid.
Decordova-Reid has played in a variety of positions throughout his career but was signed by Fulham as a forward, only to have been utilised in an unfamiliar right wing-back position by Parker in recent weeks.
It is a move that has paid dividends with the 27-year-old’s relentless energy tailor-made for the position, refusing to give Sadio Mane a moment’s peace against Liverpool and popping up at the other end to open the scoring with a thunderous strike.
Fulham’s intensity perhaps deserved more from their 1-1 draw with the champions and it’s that work-ethic – led superbly by Decordova-Reid – that must be the benchmark for each performance as they bid to deliver consistent results.
Emiliano Martinez decided to leave Arsenal last summer in search of first-team football to boost his international prospects, with the Argentina international having made a superb start to his Aston Villa career.
Martinez has now kept five clean sheets – the joint most of any goalkeeper in the Premier League this season – in 10 appearances for Villa including another shut-out in the weekend win over Wolves, the 28-year-old having provided huge presence in a side that has made significant improvements this season.
The summer signing made a string of saves at Molineux to deny the home side and provide the platform for Villa to snatch a stoppage-time victory at their Midlands rivals, including a brilliant stop to deny Leander Dendoncker.
Martinez’s distribution was effective and his seven saves are the most he has made in a Premier League fixture, ensuring another three points for Dean Smith’s side who will be dreaming of a push for Europe following their impressive summer of recruitment.
Gylfi Sigurdsson has endured an indifferent period at Everton since the arrival of Carlo Ancelotti as manager, the club-record signing have fallen from influential figure to peripheral status in recent months.
Ancelotti’s preference for a midfield four during the early part of his reign left Sigurdsson without a defined role and he struggled either wide or as part of an orthodox midfield two, the better performances from the Iceland international coming as a number 10.
In the absence of James Rodriguez and Lucas Digne against Chelsea, Ancelotti placed his faith in the 31-year-old to provide the creative spark and he was not disappointed, Sigurdsson creating six chances in addition to scoring the decisive goal in a 1-0 win at Goodison Park.
Everton created seven chances against Chelsea, six were created by Gylfi Sigurdsson.
The most by an Everton player in a single PL game in over two years. 🎨 pic.twitter.com/BxDKKrWzv8
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 12, 2020
Everton’s attacking play largely ran through the playmaker and his six chances was the most created by a Toffees player in more than two years, whilst he stepped up admirably to net the only goal of the game from the penalty spot.
Sigurdsson’s penalty was ice cool and saw Everton end Chelsea’s 14-game unbeaten run in all competitions, and hopes will be high it can be the start of an upturn in form for a talented player who has flattered to deceive of late.
Burnley have punched above their weight in the Premier League for several seasons, but their early season form pointed towards a season of struggle as a lack of investment finally caught up with the Clarets.
Sean Dyche has often had to work on a shoe-string budget but has found success in the domestic market, including dipping into the Championship to recruit emerging players desperate for a chance to prove themselves at the highest level.
Amongst those transfers includes the signing of Josh Brownhill, who arrived from Bristol City in January and has quickly established himself as a fans’ favourite amongst the Turf Moor faithful.
Brownhill was excellent as Burnley secured a first top-flight victory over Arsenal since 1974 this weekend, covering every blade of grass with an incredible work-ethic as the Clarets won the midfield battle at the Emirates.
It was a typically spirited display from the midfielder who continues to go from strength to strength, an all-action showing helping Burnley move out of the Premier League’s bottom three.
The 2020/21 season has seen several forgotten figures enjoy returns to form, though few have enjoyed a renaissance quite like Jannick Vestergaard at Southampton.
The towering Denmark international struggled to hold down an automatic position in the side last season but has emerged as an irreplaceable figure in the backline during the current campaign, producing a series of commanding displays.
Vestergaard was dominant once more as Southampton moved into the Champions League places with a 3-0 win over Sheffield United, winning a huge 11 duels, eight aerial contests and looking typically assured in possession.
Jannik Vestergaard vs. Sheffield United:
⬢ 100% take-ons completed
⬢ 100% tackle success
⬢ 93% pass accuracy
⬢ 79% duel success
⬡ Most duels won
⬡ Most aerial duels won
Another dominant centre-back display. 💪 pic.twitter.com/GUezvLYOUn
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 13, 2020
The 28-year-old has helped the Saints to five clean sheets this season and has been a huge presence at either end of the pitch, scoring three goals and ranking behind only Eric Dier and Angelo Ogbonna for clearances.
It’s taken time but Vestergaard is currently performing like the leading defender Southampton had hoped he would be following his arrival as a replacement for Virgil van Dijk, the star having been a rock at the back so far and one of the Premier League’s best centre-backs.
West Ham continue to gain momentum under David Moyes and now sit sixth in the Premier League following a comeback victory at Leeds, capitalising on the home side’s vulnerability from set pieces to seal three points at Elland Road.
Moyes’ side had several stand outs including the likes of Angelo Ogbonna and Declan Rice, though we’ve opted to include Tomas Soucek in our Star Turns following another impressive performance from the midfielder.
Soucek arrived as a relative unknown from Slavia Prague in January and has swiftly established himself as a key figure in the Hammers’ side, his partnership with Rice providing the east London side with energy and security.
Other very important points!! I am happy and proud of our team. I want to dedicate the victory to our fans and especially @ArthurMasuaku – I keep my fingers crossed and wish you a quick return!! ✊️💪🏽 #LEEWHU pic.twitter.com/s94muT89G3
— Tomáš Souček (@tomassoucek28) December 11, 2020
Soucek was once again everywhere for West Ham in another display of hard-running and desire, his box-to-box influence a huge threat and his sizeable frame causing nightmares at set-piece situations.
The 25-year-old scored for the second successive game and his displays of late have seen tentative speculation emerge of interest from Bayern Munich, West Ham’s marathon man continuing to win admirers for his relentless running and quality.