Traditionally a time of uncertainty and change, January saw Liverpool’s long unbeaten run at Anfield come to end. The baton was emotionally passed from Sam Allardyce in 2017 to Sean Dyche, although the Burnley manager didn’t get long to enjoy it, as the next five away managers to visit Anfield all won as well. Ilkay Gundogan had outscored Manchester United by the last week of the month, but the goalkeepers from Eibar and Newport County had scored more goals than Liverpool, which is probably worse. In transfer news Leeds bought a new pitch from Tottenham, but no-one ever explained how it was delivered.
February was 2021’s “Southampton Conceding Nine Goals in a Game” month, as they lost 9-0 to Manchester United’s heritage division. It was still going badly for Liverpool too. By Valentine’s Day 2% of all their defeats in Premier League history had come in the previous 40 days. The most exciting moment, for fans of specific letters, was seeing Ola Aina score for Fulham. With 71% of his name made up of vowels, it set a Premier League record that could stand until youth prospect Eao Uiea makes his breakthrough.
I’m not saying Manchester City were in good form at the start of March, but as the month got underway they had won more PL games in previous last 58 days than Huddersfield did in two entire seasons, which didn’t please veteran actors. Harry Kane became only the third player in Premier League history to score more than 25 goals with each of his left foot, right foot and head, alongside variety icons Robbie Fowler and Andy Cole. Liverpool still hadn’t scored more home goals in 2021 than Andy Carroll, while Kevin De Bruyne went level with Kevin Kurányi as the top scoring Kevin in CL history.
25 – Harry Kane's goal was his 25th headed goal in the Premier League – he's just the third player to have scored 25 left footed goals, 25 right footed goals and 25 headed goals in the competition's history, after Robbie Fowler and Andy Cole. Mixture. #TOTFUL pic.twitter.com/dNbPdj8ky9
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 13, 2021
Here we go, here we go, here we go, this is it: Ryan Mason became the first manager younger than Sky Sports to take charge of a PL game. The Super League idea went down like Derby County in 2007-08 (quickly, unpleasantly) but left a bad taste all the same. Still, for anyone dreaming of seeing Petr Cech in a suit trying to herd fans on the King’s Road like a luxury steward it really was super. Chronology fans just concentrated on the Champions League instead, where Jude Bellingham became the first player born after the CL second group stage was scrapped to score in a CL quarter-final. We knew it would happen one day. A bit like the Super League attempt.
May, the month that gives us the joy of European finals and takes away with the congested horror of hayfever. In the Europa League Villarreal defeated Manchester United on penalties in a shootout that lasted 19 hours, leaving Unai Emery with twice as many European honours than Arsenal (and that’s being generous and letting the Gunners count the 1970 Fairs Cup. Fair’s fair). The Champions League, meanwhile, finally saw the small town of London draw level with midlands super metropolis Nottingham on two European Cup wins, after Chelsea defeated Manchester City. Pep Guardiola still hasn’t won the Champions League without Lionel Messi in his team; Messi has won it once without Guardiola. Get back together guys!
Euro 2020 kicked off a year late and it was pretty good although like a wedding or a party that ends with big unpleasant scenes it’s hard to go through the good bits without recalling the sheer grimness that concluded the whole process. Still, Scotland scored their first tournament goal since the Nokia 3310 was released, while Kacper Kozlowski is the first player younger than Peep Show to appear at a European Championships.
Ah the sweet sweet return of club football. With feelgood stories like every club in the UK having either at least one Chelsea player on loan or one signed with a buyback clause, the return of Cristiano Ronaldo to the Premier League (still the only player to ever score against all of North Korea, Iran and Millwall) and Lionel Messi being accidentally released by Barcelona and having to sign for PSG. All that actually happened.
By September 11 Paul Pogba already had seven assists, which matches Paul Scholes’ best seasonal total in the Premier League. I mean, Pogba hasn’t added one since, but he did all the work early doors, so fair enough. Mark Noble came on to score a late penalty against Manchester United, failed to do so and ended as perhaps the only player to have one touch in a Premier League game and that be a hubristic shot from 12 yards. In the Champions League Transnistrian icons Sheriff defeated global icons Real Madrid and then Sebastien Haller joined Wayne Rooney in the elite club of players who have been sold by David Moyes so they can score a hat-trick on their Champions League debut.
Hyper-veteran Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Milan, meaning that like ITV’s Loose Women, he has been fully operational since September 1999. Manchester United’s eternally long unbeaten away run finally came to end, ushering in the quick and decisive endgame in the Solskjaer era. Meanwhile by the end of the month Ben Chilwell and Reece James had seven league goals between them, two more than Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi, which seemed good and bad in equal measure. The Chelsea pair were injured by December, though, so perhaps they tried just too hard.
❄️ No jacket, snow hammering down, smile on his face.
— Joe Prince-Wright (@JPW_NBCSports) November 28, 2021
Divock Origi scored the 20th Premier League goal of his career, meaning he was no longer the only player whose name contained all the letters in Covid to have scored 19 goals in the competition. November also saw Watford finish off Solskjaer and sudden snowfall see off Burnley vs. Tottenham Hotspur. If there’s an image of the year then it is Sean Dyche in a plain white shirt, grinning as individual ice crystals gathered on his goatee beard. This Is England.
Fans of heavily disrupted league tables usually have to get the sort of disgusting content they enjoy in the non-league scene, but thanks to the Omicron variant December saw an unprecedented number of Premier League games called off. We went into the final game of the year with Burnley swanning about with four games in hand, while we also enjoyed the confusing paradigm of managers simultaneously complaining about there being too many games but not enough of the games being on. Oh, and after fitting out a nice plush stables ready for a genuine three horse title race, Liverpool and Chelsea decided to let Manchester City canter off into the distance. That was 2021, then. Different, yes, but also very much the same.