Are we set for the most thrilling title race in recent memory? Just four points currently separate the Premier League’s top six following the latest round of action, the new year bringing in some headline results as Manchester City thrashed Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
Manchester United edged Aston Villa in a clash between the two in-form sides to move level on points with league leaders Liverpool, whilst Leicester continued their charge with victory at Newcastle.
Following a thrilling start to 2021 across the division, we’ve picked our some of the Premier League’s better performers from the past weekend.
Here are seven players who shone in gameweek 17:
Much of the talk surrounding Manchester City this season has been regarding the club’s new-found solidity and lack of trademark attacking verve, but the signature sparkle of Pep Guardiola’s side was back in some style during a stunning first half at Chelsea.
City were three goals to the good at the interval after blitzing the out-of-sorts west London outfit, with Phil Foden amongst the architects of the victory following a superb showing from the academy graduate.
Foden started as part of a front three and tormented Cesar Azpilicueta throughout the opening exchanges, whilst he continued his incredible record against the Premier League’s ‘big six’ by providing the opener for Ilkay Gundogan before lashing home City’s second.
The 20-year-old has now registered a staggering 11 goal involvements in just nine appearances against the division’s ‘big six’ and his latest display was yet another tantalising glimpse of a player with huge potential.
⚡️ 𝗣𝗵𝗶𝗹 𝗙𝗼𝗱𝗲𝗻 𝘅 𝟮𝟬𝟮𝟬/𝟮𝟭:
🔷 19 Appearances
⚽️ 6 Goals
🅰️ 5 Assists
💥 110.9 Mins Per Goal Contrib.#MCFC | @PhilFoden | #ManCity pic.twitter.com/ZfrLJAHlBe
— Man City Xtra (@City_Xtra) January 4, 2021
City played without a recognised centre-forward but their off-the-ball movement terrorised the hosts, Foden central to an attacking display that underlined their credentials as title challengers this season.
Arguably English football’s brightest talent, Foden is a match-winner and must now be handed regular opportunities as he bids to reach his considerable ceiling.
Premier League clubs have had plenty of success this season after gambling on second tier talents during the summer, the likes of Ollie Watkins, Matty Cash and Antonee Robinson having stepped up from the Championship impressively.
Another star who has showed the value in looking towards the lower leagues is Eberechi Eze, who joined Crystal Palace in a £17m deal following an outstanding season at Queens Park Rangers.
The 22-year-old took some time to settle at Selhurst Park but has grown in confidence as a Premier League player, with the England U21 international scoring a sensational solo effort against Sheffield United this weekend to showcase exactly the talent he possesses.
Eze picked up the ball well inside his own half before a change of direction took him past Oliver Norwood, accelerating into opposition territory and gliding past another challenge before firing home from just outside of the penalty area.
It was a moment of pure inspiration from a player with the quality to decide games singlehandedly, the fleet-footed South Londoner described as a ‘nightmare’ for opposition sides by teammate James Tomkins and a hugely exciting, emerging talent.
The dark clouds that have hovered over Arsenal this season have begun to drift ever so slightly, three wins on the spin moving the north London side away from the bottom three and within just six points of the top six.
Arsenal’s improved fortunes have come amid a series of encouraging performances from their next generation of stars, with academy graduate Emile Smith Rowe having been introduced into the side alongside the brilliantly talented Bukayo Saka.
Saka burst onto the scene last season and has since established himself as arguably Arsenal’s most influential player this term, the teenager excellent once more as West Brom were hit for four at the Hawthorns.
The 19-year-old started on the right-hand side of the attack and tormented his full-back throughout, whilst he capped a fine individual display with the second goal of the game, turning home after a wonderful passing move involving Alexandre Lacazette and Smith Rowe.
Vintage Arsenal! 🔥
An excellent team move completed by Bukayo Saka ✨
That was superb! 👏 pic.twitter.com/jQKtlQlJ4Z
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) January 2, 2021
Saka plays the game with an intelligence that defies his inexperience and after flourishing at full-back has nailed down a position further forward, the teenager perhaps the player Arsenal thought they were signing in both Nicolas Pepe and Willian.
Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min have, quite rightly, taken most of the headlines at Tottenham this season, the formidable forward partnership having produced at a remarkable rate over the opening months of the campaign.
Whilst the forwards flourish in telepathic tandem, however, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg has quietly established himself as perhaps the signing of the season with the former Southampton star having provided leadership and drive to the Spurs engine room.
Hojbjerg was once again superb in dealing with the threat posed by a unique Leeds attack this weekend, shielding the backline in signature fashion and leading the clash for touches, tackles and successful passes.
Pierre-Emile Højbjerg's game by numbers vs. Leeds:
100% take-ons completed
80 touches (most)
44 successful passes (most)
16 total duels (most)
5 tackles (=most)
3 fouls won (most)
2 take-ons completed
1 chance created
Midfield general. pic.twitter.com/j2Qf3A1f0a
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 2, 2021
The Denmark international leads the Premier League for tackles won this season and often sets the tone for Spurs’ best displays, Hojbjerg offering presence and protection to his side as they look to push towards the top of the division.
James Maddison’s fine form continued this weekend with another performance of creative class for Leicester, scoring the opening goal of the game as the Foxes moved to within one point of the summit with a 2-1 win at Newcastle.
Maddison was the stand-out player during an uninspiring opening 45 minutes as Brendan Rodgers’ side sought an opener at St James’ Park, before registering his fifth goal involvement in the past six fixtures with a sweetly struck strike to put Leicester ahead shortly after the break.
The 24-year-old appears to be finding his best form after a difficult spell with injury and must surely be on the radar of Gareth Southgate, having not appeared for England since earning his solitary senior cap against Montenegro over a year ago.
29 – James Maddison has been directly involved in 29 goals in the Premier League for Leicester (17 goals and 12 assists); since the start of the 2018-19 season, this is the most by any English midfielder in the competition. Bullseye. pic.twitter.com/Zg0M5ZJ6Sl
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 3, 2021
Leicester’s win at Newcastle made it 22 points from a possible 27 on the road this season and an impressive outfit look well placed to secure Champions League football this season, Maddison a player capable of proving the difference if he can maintain his recent levels.
Manchester United’s momentum continued this weekend with a 2-1 win over Aston Villa, a result which moved the Red Devils level on points with league leaders Liverpool following their fine festive form.
It’s an incredible position for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to find his side given their indifferent early season results, but the most unpredictable season in recent memory could yet lead to a surprise title winner.
United have shown encouraging signs of late and after struggling defensively have been boosted by the return to form and fitness of Eric Bailly, the Ivorian having started four successive fixtures for the first time in more than three years.
Bailly impressed against Aston Villa on Friday evening and made a game-leading six clearances, whilst his outstanding and brave late block to deny Kienan Davis was greeted with huge celebrations from his teammates at the final whistle.
Eric Bailly displayed some 𝒄𝒐𝒖𝒓𝒂𝒈𝒆 with this last-minute block 😤😳 pic.twitter.com/PDImOCdWJz
— B/R Football (@brfootball) January 1, 2021
The 26-year-old’s inability to stay fit has seen him fail to build on a promising debut season after signing from Villarreal in 2016, though hopes may be high that Bailly can finally fulfil his potential with an extended run in the side.
Bailly’s athleticism also appears the ideal foil to get the best out of club captain Harry Maguire, the England international’s qualities better complimented by a centre-back partner confident one-against-one and possessing recovery speed.
Dan Burn is likely to be waking up in cold sweats at the thought of Adama Traore, the Wolves winger having given the Brighton defender a truly torrid time in Saturday’s 3-3 thriller between the two sides at the Amex Stadium.
Traore’s attributes are no secret with perhaps no player in world football possessing his blend of unstoppable speed and strength, qualities that were abundantly evident during a brilliant performance from the Spain international this weekend.
The 24-year-old made a huge nine dribbles, won 16 duels and was fouled on four occasions against the Seagulls, exposing Burns’ lack of pace in a mismatch of huge proportions down the Wolves right.
Adama Traoré’s game by numbers vs. Brighton:
14 attempted take-ons
9 successful take-ons
4 fouls suffered
3 ball recoveries
2 chances created
2 tackles won
Should’ve had a game-winning assist. 🎯 pic.twitter.com/si8eIFyt1V
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) January 2, 2021
Burns endured a nightmare evening as he scored an own goal and hauled Traore down for a penalty, Graham Potter’s decision to place the 6ft 7in defender at left-back astonishingly naive and misguided.
Traore had earlier provided the cross for Roman Saiss’ goal and made full use of his physical advantage against Burns, who will be delighted he does not have to face the unique prospect of the Spaniard on a more regular basis.
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