We’re fast approaching the half-way point in the season and this weekend’s top of the table clash between Liverpool and Manchester United did little to boost either side’s hopes of success, with an in-form Manchester City now primed to move top of the division.
Pep Guardiola’s side recorded an eighth consecutive victory in all competitions with John Stones starring in yet another City clean sheet, whilst Leicester kept pace with the top sides and climbed to third by beating Southampton.
Elsewhere there were wins for West Ham, Brighton, Spurs and Chelsea, whilst West Brom got up and running under Big Sam by beating Wolves in the Black Country derby.
We’ve picked out some of the finer performers from the weekend’s action, here are seven Premier League players who shone in gameweek 18:
Manchester City’s man of the moment and a player who has enjoyed an incredible revitalisation this season, John Stones has been transformed from unwanted figure to key cog in a side gaining title momentum.
After a difficult period the centre-back has bounced back in stunning style to form an impregnable partnership with Ruben Dias at the heart of the defence, the England international’s class and composure perfectly complementing the strengths of the club-record signing from Benfica.
The erratic mistakes that plagued Stones in previous seasons have been eradicated with his improved decision-making allowing his natural talents to flourish, the 26-year-old carrying the ball with confidence and taking more touches than any other City player in the 4-0 win over Crystal Palace this weekend.
On current form the centre-back is England’s best defender and a certainty to be recalled into the fold by Gareth Southgate, having not received a cap for the Three Lions in more than a year.
John Stones game by numbers vs. Crystal Palace:
120 touches (most)
117 passes attempted
112 passes completed
11 attacking third passes
6 ball recoveries
2 shots on target
1 clean sheet
The Barnsley Beckenbauer. pic.twitter.com/tBC2YpXxfE
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 17, 2021
The statistics tell the story of a huge impact from a player who may just be fulfilling his early potential, City having won 88% of their nine league fixtures with Stones in the side this season and just 25% of the eight he has been absent for.
Another strong defensive showing was also added to with two goals for a player enjoying his football, Stones’ first in the Premier League since signing for City in 2016.
Stones’ resurgence is grabbing plenty of headlines but the impact of his defensive partner on this Manchester City side deserves acclaim, Dias having helped transform the club’s biggest weakness into arguably their greatest strength.
The 23-year-old became the most expensive player in City’s history when arriving from Benfica, but after several market mistakes when it comes to defensive reinforcements it appears Pep Guardiola has got this one right.
Dias was once again a commanding figure in the victory over Crystal Palace to rack up a seventh Premier League clean sheet in the club’s past nine fixtures, the Portugal international a dominant and assured presence at centre-back.
Man City with Ruben DIas and John Stones starting together:
🏟 9 Games
✅ 8 Wins
🤝 1 Draw
❌ 0 Defeats
🧤 8 Clean Sheets
🥅 1 Goal Conceded
Ridiculous numbers. 👏 pic.twitter.com/5Tk3eyjbjp
— Footy Accumulators (@FootyAccums) January 13, 2021
Such has been his impact since arriving at the Etihad, the defender has seen his odds dramatically shorten in the running to be named as the PFA Player of the Year with the 23-year-old falling from a 100/1 outsider to just 20/1 with some bookmakers.
Whisper it quietly, but there are eerie similarities to the impact of 2019 winner Virgil van Dijk at Liverpool.
West Brom remain in deep trouble this season with the appointment of Sam Allardyce having failed to provide an initial spark, though the Baggies are up and running under the new manager now after a thrilling comeback victory at Wolves.
The struggling side responded well to squandering an early lead to fight back and secure a 3-2 victory at Molineux, claiming Black Country bragging rights alongside a much-needed three points for their survival bid.
Standing tall in the midst of a tightly-contested clash was centre-back Kyle Bartley, who on his first start under the Allardyce regime produced a performance his manager would have relished.
The 29-year-old continually put his body on the line for the cause and made a brilliant intervention to defend a Pedro Neto cross, before making superb blocks to deny both Wily Boly and Fabio Silva.
West Brom will need more performances of a similar ilk if they are to survive an instant return to the Championship this season, though Bartley’s showing proved the Baggies’ backline remain committed to the cause and prepared for a relegation dogfight.
Frank Lampard believes that Mason Mount is a better player than he was at the same age, after watching the young midfielder get Chelsea’s top-four push back on track with a vital winner at Fulham.
Mount enjoyed a promising first season in the senior side last term but has taken his game to greater heights in 2020/21, emerging as arguably the key figure for the west Londoners with his creativity and endless energy.
The 22-year-old was the best player on the pitch at Craven Cottage and showcased his versatility by starting on the right before finishing centrally, creating a huge seven chances – the most any player has recorded in an away Premier League fixture over the past five seasons.
Mason Mount created seven chances for Chelsea vs. Fulham, no Blues player has created more in a Premier League away game across the past five seasons.
Another sensational display. ✨ pic.twitter.com/5MLyclZmCQ
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 16, 2021
Mount’s continued supply of ammunition failed to have the desired effect as Chelsea’s forwards continued to fluff their lines, with the midfielder stepping up to fire a late winner and edge his side closer to the Champions League places.
Lampard’s comments on the England international may raise eyebrows, but the star’s notable improvement has seen him become a fixture in the side and there is perhaps no better manager to learn from as a hard-running midfielder with an eye for goal.
Tanguy Ndombele’s struggles last season saw the critics out in full force to brand the Tottenham midfielder a ‘flop’, a series of ineffective performances having seen the club-record signing appear destined for the exit door.
Amongst his many critics was famously manager Jose Mourinho, who publicly blasted the underperforming star following a draw at Burnley in March with Ndombele withdrawn at half-time as Spurs trailed.
Fast forward 10 months and it’s a different picture entirely, the 24-year-old having won favour to become an important part of Mourinho’s new-look midfield.
Ndombele has bounced back from the form and fitness issues that plagued his debut campaign and produced a display described as ‘incredible’ by Mourinho at Sheffield United this weekend, operating in a deeper role and impressing with his strength, speed and eye for a pass.
The summer signing of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg has unleashed Ndombele from his shackles and it is a move that Spurs are reaping the rewards from, the Frenchman a dynamic presence in the club’s engine room.
We’re still wondering how Tanguy Ndombele pulled this off 😍
Special, special goal 👏pic.twitter.com/NAakNAP8WI
— Goal (@goal) January 18, 2021
His burst forward and sublime goal this weekend was an example of his abilities when handed the opportunities to flourish in forward areas, the often quick-to-judge media being served some Ndombele-shaped humble pie.
Another player whose improvement this season has seen him return to prominence, Luke Shaw has risen to the challenge of increased competition at Manchester United to play his best football in some time.
Shaw was his side’s best performer as they secured a goalless draw at Liverpool this weekend, negating the threat of Mohamed Salah at one end of the pitch and providing a creative outlet for his side going forward.
No teammate provided more key passes or won more fouls than Shaw at Anfield, whilst his tidiness in possession stood out amongst his teammates who struggled to find rhythm for much of the clash as the hosts dominated the ball.
Gary Neville commented on the left-back’s running power during commentary and Graeme Souness lavished praise on the 25-year-old for his handling of Salah, Shaw now comfortably ahead of summer signing Alex Telles in the pecking order.
📊 Luke Shaw's contribution for @ManUtd today
Completed 33/41 passes
Won 8/12 duels
8x possession gained
2 chances created
Man Utd are the 1st away team to keep a PL clean sheet at Liverpool since Oct 2018 pic.twitter.com/UjroJOOPVu
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) January 17, 2021
There remains room for improvement, no doubt, but these are positive signs for a player who will be hoping to break back into the England side ahead of this summer’s European Championships.
Youri Tielemans has described playing in this Leicester team as a ‘joy’ and the Belgium international remains the midfield metronome of a hugely impressive output, continuing his impressive form this season with another superb performance this weekend.
Southampton set out to press the playmaker intently early on but he recovered from an underwhelming start to take control of the game in typical fashion, remaining assured in possession and providing two moments of quality to help decide the tie.
His slide-rule pass into the path of James Maddison to open the scoring was weighted to perfection, before skipping past a Saints’ challenge and releasing Harvey Barnes to put the result beyond doubt in stoppage time.
Youri Tielemans’ game by numbers vs. Southampton:
79% pass accuracy
7 ball recoveries
4 tackles won
3 chances created
2 successful take-ons
Quality. 🅰️🅰️ pic.twitter.com/A1ykcZMcPz
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) January 16, 2021
Tielemans appears to have found his role in the Leicester side this season and has excelled in a deeper position under Brendan Rodgers, his creative quality having helped the Foxes up to third in the Premier League.
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