Around the globe, nations are welcoming in 2021, bidding goodbye to what has been a tumultuous year.
Much has changed in 2020, and while the coronavirus pandemic continues, football has at least returned, albeit in a vastly different way to what came before.
The Premier League was suspended for three months between March and June, but following a successful Project Restart, 2020-21 is shaping up to be one of the most unpredictable campaigns in recent history.
With 2020 coming to an end, and 2021 promising signs of improvement, we use Opta data to review the Premier League year.
PASS MASTERS CITY CONFINE DEFENSIVE CONCERNS TO HISTORY?
Pep Guardiola’s swashbuckling Manchester City side of 2017 to 2019 may well be a thing of the past, but so, it seems, are defensive lapses.
While often rampant in attack, City could be got at the back, as Liverpool usually managed to expose in meetings between the two title challengers.
Perhaps with the league all but sewn up in Liverpool’s favour by early 2020, however, Guardiola seems to have found the tonic to City’s issues in defence.
City have kept 17 clean sheets in 2020, three more than any other side. Seven of those have come this season, while the resurgence of John Stones in recent weeks has been a major success story.
Stones has made six league appearances – all of them starts – and has helped City keep five clean sheets, while forming a fine partnership with Ruben Dias, meaning Aymeric Laporte has found himself out of the side.
City’s improved defence has come at something of a cost, with their goal tally falling to 69, six behind Liverpool, who netted 75 times across 2020, and a drop of 26 from their total of 95 in 2019.
However, Guardiola’s team still control possession as much as they ever did, making 20,237 successful passes in 2020.
Indeed, holding midfielder Rodri completed the most passes of any player in the Premier League, while his pass completion rate of 92.4 per cent was also the highest of any midfielder.
DYNAMIC PLAYMAKERS TOP THE CHARTS
While James Rodriguez has come into the Premier League and made a strong impact at Everton, creating 25 chances – including three assists – and scoring three times in 10 appearances for Carlo Ancelotti’s side, it is the playmakers with more dynamism and tenacity who have impressed the most through 2020.
Kevin De Bruyne – last season’s PFA Premier League Player of the Year – was the chief creator.
He was the only player to create more than 100 chances in the Premier League in 2020, while he also led all players in chances created from open play (83). De Bruyne’s tally of 15 assists was also more than twice as many as any of his City team-mates.
Another standout is Bruno Fernandes, who has seemingly transformed Manchester United’s fortunes since joining in January.
Fernandes was involved in 32 Premier League goals in 29 games in 2020 (18 goals, 14 assists). The 26-year-old is one of two players to have been involved in 30 or more Premier League strikes in a calendar year, after Luis Suarez in 2013.
Topping the chances created charts for this campaign, however, is Jack Grealish. Villa’s captain crafted 93 opportunities in total through the year, second only to De Bruyne, and 51 of those have come from 14 appearances this term – an average of 3.64 per game.
Grealish’s 10 big chances created is level with Fernandes, while only De Bruyne (11) has made more.
The key attribute which stands Grealish out, however, is his ability to carry the ball. Having amassed 8,634.99 metres, he leads the way in the league, ahead of Harry Maguire (7,462.14m), Adama Traore (6,912.35m) and Andrew Robertson (6,882.03m).
De Bruyne and Fernandes are no strangers to picking up the ball and powering forward, though their chance creation relies more on precise crossing and slick passing.
RUN, FOREST, RUN! THE PREMIER LEAGUE’S MARATHON MEN
It is no surprise to see that Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool top the distance-covered metrics for the year. In total, the Reds ran 3,854.8 metres, 20.1 more than second-placed Sheffield United, albeit Chris Wilder’s men will not get much-needed points just because they run more than the opposition.
West Ham (3820.2m), Brighton and Hove Albion (3804.1m) and Chelsea (3722.4m) complete the top five, with Southampton something of a surprise omission, as Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side are renowned for their pressing system.
However, Saints captain James Ward-Prowse does lead the way for distance covered, tallying up just under 396km over the course of 3,060 minutes (the equivalent of nine-and-a-half marathons).
As well as being a tireless worker, Ward-Prowse is a set-piece specialist, scoring four free-kick goals.
Indeed, those strikes contributed to Southampton’s league-leading tally of 15 goals from outside of the area, with Danny Ings netting five long-range efforts and Stuart Armstrong adding four.
While Grealish has carried the ball further than any other player, Wolves’ Traore clocked up the most dribbles, amassing 142 – 46 more than anybody else.
In January, Traore completed 14 dribbles in a game against Watford – the most by a player in a Premier League game since 2003-04, when Opta began recording.
BRUNO AND VARDY’S PENALTY PARTY
A total of 112 penalties were awarded in 2020 – 13 of these went to Leicester City, while 10 went the way of United, Chelsea and City respectively.
Fernandes converted eight times from the spot, while Leicester’s Jamie Vardy scored seven, one ahead of Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah.
West Brom are the only team to have not been awarded a Premier League spot-kick, with Crystal Palace, Norwich City and Burnley – much to Sean Dyche’s chagrin – winning two each.
While Leicester won the most fouls inside the area, it was Grealish who was felled the most in general, averaging at least one foul in all 32 of his appearances.
Rounding off our review are the Premier League’s leading marksmen. Salah (23) and Fernandes (18) headline the scoring charts.
Salah’s 23 strikes came from 33 appearances, while Fernandes made four fewer, though more of his goals did come from penalties.
The evergreen Vardy, with 17 goals, is next on the list, tied with Tottenham star Son Heung-min, who was involved in 18 open play sequences ending in goals, more than any other player.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin has enjoyed a brilliant run since Ancelotti took charge of Everton, scoring 16 times in 2020 – with 11 coming this season.
Calvert-Lewin had 93 attempts in total, which ranks second in the league, though it is 31 fewer than Salah managed, and his strikes, along with telling contributions from Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino and the creative forces of Robertson (12 assists) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (seven assists), helped Liverpool to their first-ever Premier League title.
Harry Kane’s seemingly telepathic partnership with Son has proved fruitful for Spurs, and the England skipper scored 16 times across the year from 25 appearances, recording 10 assists.
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