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Premier League trophy (file pic).
Premier League trophy (file pic).
Image: PA

Worst signing? Best player? Our writers review the Premier League season

Manchester City prevailed as the pandemic wreaked havoc on the fixture schedule.
May 23rd 2021, 7:30 AM 11,219 13

Paul Fennessy

What will be your defining memory from this season?

Oddly, the moments I will probably remember most from this season do not involve the actual playing of football.

The remarkable news of the Super League plans unfolding over the course of Sunday afternoon completely overshadowed that day’s football and dominated the news cycle for weeks thereafter, to the extent that the pretty stunning story in its own right of Jose Mourinho being discarded by Tottenham felt so unremarkable by comparison. As bleak as the actual situation was, it certainly created some compelling TV, with the likes of Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher deserving kudos for their articulate anger, albeit while seeming to downplay Sky’s obvious influence in paving the way for this dramatic saga.

Similarly, the scale of the protests that resulted in the Man United-Liverpool game being postponed recently felt unprecedented and provided a refreshing reminder that local fans can still have a degree of influence on their clubs, irrespective of how much wealth they accumulate.

Who was your Player of the Season?

Bruno Fernandes, Harry Kane and Kevin De Bruyne deserve honourable mentions, but Ruben Dias just shades it. Man City gaining a world-class centre-back and Liverpool losing one was perhaps the biggest reason why the former outstripped the latter in the race for the title. And at times, Dias, a €68 million early-season recruit from Benfica, was so good that he looked on a par with Virgil van Dijk — his commanding presence and elegance on the ball are certainly reminiscent of the talismanic Dutchman.

Name the best and worst signing of the season.

The best is Dias for the reasons outlined above.

There is some competition for worst but Donny van de Beek, bought from Ajax for a reported £35 million, plus £5 million in add-ons, is certainly a standout. He may well prove to be a good player ultimately, but he just hasn’t been able to fit in at all since joining United and looks destined to indefinitely play second fiddle to Bruno Fernandes, undoubtedly the Red Devils’ most talented player at present. At 24, the Dutch international is still young, but the fact that he has made just three Premier League starts this season makes you wonder why the club paid big money for him in the first place.

Best individual performance you witnessed this season?

I’m going to cheat slightly and name two, both from the same game. In just Tottenham’s second game of the season, Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min showed why they are widely considered to be two of the best attackers in the world. Spurs were 1-0 down before their deadly duo simply blitzed the Saints with five goals between the 45th and 82nd minute. Son scored four, all of which were assisted by Kane, while the England international added another. This bravura display was down to a mixture of lightning counter-attacking, intelligent link-up play and lethal finishing which Kane, in particular, would continue to display throughout the season. For a moment, it was tempting to believe that Jose Mourinho was back and Tottenham were set for a title challenge, but of course, it fell apart, as it so often does with the North London club and the Portuguese coach too, increasingly.

Which Irish player has impressed you most?

Seamus Coleman, whose praises were consistently sung by Everton coach Carlo Ancelotti largely owing to the player’s leadership skills and remarkable durability, feels like the only answer here in what was a bad season overall for Irish players in the top flight. 22-year-old Dara O’Shea deserves an honourable mention for not looking out of place in his first season playing Premier League football with West Brom. 

Which team did you most enjoy watching (aside from the club you support)?

Leicester were great to watch, with their effective mix of highly accomplished seasoned pros like Jonny Evans, Kasper Schmeichel and Jamie Vardy, coupled with exciting youngsters such as Wesley Fofana, Harvey Barnes and James Maddison. And Brendan Rodgers never fails to produce attractive, attacking teams.

I’m still holding out hope that they will secure a Champions League spot and further highlight the futility of the Super League plans.

Name your favourite moment from this season.

I’m not a Liverpool supporter and there were times this year where I felt like the world’s most jaded football watcher, but it was impossible not to be moved by Alisson’s sensational last-minute winner against West Brom followed by his brilliant, incredibly honest and emotional post-match interview. A reminder of football at its best in a season where the sport’s worst elements were starkly apparent.

Describe the season in one sentence.

An exhausting, non-stop, purgatorial stream of crowd-less games that are never not on TV.

Garry Doyle

manchester-city-win-the-202021-premier-league-package Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne. Source: PA

What will be your defining memory from this season?

Manchester United fans invading Old Trafford. They’ll not leave this issue alone until the Glazers go and the idea of fans reclaiming the clubs they love from odious owners is an easy one to like.

Who was your Player of the Season?

Hard to choose as City have been the dominant team but their lineup has changed so frequently. Only three players have started more than 30 league games this season but any time you see Kevin de Bruyne in their team, they look a better side. Class act.

Name the best and worst signing of the season.

Best: Ruben Dias (Manchester City) 47 appearances and counting for City this year; has improved them massively.

Worst: Timo Werner – how he scored 28 goals for RB Leipzig last season is a mystery. May come good down the line but for £48m, you expect a lot more than six goals from 34 (28 starts, six as a sub) Premier League appearances.

Best individual performance you witnessed this season?

It seems a long time ago now and in the wider scheme of things, it is barely relevant, but when Ollie Watkins scored that hat-trick for Aston Villa against Liverpool in their 7-2 win, it was jawdropping. At that stage, Liverpool still had an aura about them on account of what they did last year. Ollie soon got rid of that.

Which Irish player has impressed you most?

Seamus Coleman — an exceptional professional who overcomes setbacks on an annual basis.

Which team did you most enjoy watching (aside from the club you support)?

My first memory of football was seeing the old man head for Wembley in 1981. Manchester City were in the final that year and for some bizarre reason a Co. Down village with a population of about 500 people had a City supporter’s club. Not a United one, nor Liverpool — but City, who yo-yoed between the First and Second Divisions that decade. Each year, though, the auld fella and his buddies got the boat across to Stranraer and the coach down to Manchester to see their team.

They were fairly awful to watch but every now and then they’d discover a cracking player — Paul Lake, David White — before routinely they’d either get injured or sold and then City would get relegated again.

Then came 2008 and all that money coming into the club. Suddenly City were good to watch; suddenly they started winning things, giving the auld fella something to cheer for the first time since he had sideburns, flares and drove a Morris Minor which had a hole in the floor. Try telling him they are guilty of sportswashing. “Pass me my false teeth and the remote control,” he’ll reply. Every time they win, he’s delighted with himself and that’s good enough for me.

Name your favourite moment from this season.

Seeing Leicester City win the FA Cup invoked memories of a time when people cared about the competition. Post-2000, when Manchester United didn’t bother to defend the trophy they’d won, the Cup has lost its shine. Everyone was to blame, not just owners obsessing over Premier League survival but managers, too, who should have been strong enough to pick their best sides for every round of the competition.

The time we lost the will to live was when Southampton — sometime around 2013 — picked a shadow side for a Cup third-round tie, even though they were guaranteed to finish mid-table. It was a stain on their tradition. Everyone will remember Lawrie McMenamy for winning the Cup for them in ’76. Sunderland built a statue for Bob Stokoe, winner of the Cup in ’73. No one has ever built a statue for a manager whose team finished eighth in the league. And no one ever will.

Describe the season in one sentence.

As dull as every other Premier League season since 2005.

Gavin Cooney

20202021-premier-league-season-package Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson celebrates scoring. Source: PA

What will be your defining memory from this season?

The empty stands. This Zombie season was probably the worst Premier League year ever, with only the Champions League race providing any late-season jeopardy as exhausted players ran about in a soulless vacuum to ensure everyone continued to get paid. The season had its moments and it was a good distraction at times, but what a terrible, diminished season it was. Let’s never do it again.

Who was your Player of the Season?

Jack Grealish would have got this had he not missed so much of the second half of the season with injury, so I’ll give it to Ilkay Gundogan, whose glut of goals kickstarted the remarkable winning run with which City sealed the title.

Name the best and worst signing of the season.

The best is Ruben Dias at Manchester City, who had a Van Dijk-style transformation on the City defence to the point of making John Stones look good. Though Tomas Soucek is a close second. His 14 goals and nine yellow cards means David Moyes can end his years of yearning: he has finally found a successor worthy of Marouane Fellaini.

The worst signing has to be Willian at Arsenal: a single Premier League goal at the end of a season in which he blocked the progress of younger, better players, having arrived on an astronomical wage a week after the club laid off 55 employees. He has been rubbish all the while encapsulating elite football’s twisted priorities.

Best individual performance you witnessed this season?

The two-goal-and-three-assist turn of Jack Grealish against Liverpool, in that berserk 7-2 win.

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Which Irish player has impressed you most?

Seamus Coleman.

Which team did you most enjoy watching (aside from the club you support)?

I can emphatically say it’s not Burnley, whom I have seen more often than members of my own family this year. My answer is Leeds United.

Name your favourite moment from this season.

It has to be Alisson’s winning goal against West Brom.

Describe the season in one sentence.

An antiseptic, zombified endeavour in which the side with the deepest pockets and the greatest depth strolled to the title.

Ciarán Kennedy

manchester-united-fan-protest-old-trafford A fan holds up a sign during a protest against the club owners outside of Old Trafford. Source: PA

What will be your defining memory from this season?

Fan protests. I thought we’d see a backlash following the European Super League mess, but I found the sight of an almost manic Petr Cech pleading with angry Chelsea supporters outside Stamford Bridge really striking, and then it ramped up again with the Manchester United supporters breaking into Old Trafford and forcing their game against Liverpool to be called off.

When I think back to this season, I’ll probably think of Graeme Souness talking about supporters throwing flares and cans of beer before I think about any actual football.

Who was your Player of the Season?

I thought Ilkay Gundogan really stood out for Manchester City when they began to take control in the league earlier this year. I used to feel he didn’t really fit in at City but I’ve loved watching him play this season, and he just seems absolutely perfect for the system Pep Guardiola wants to play now.

Name the best and worst signing of the season.

Ruben Dias has made such a difference to the City defence, but I’m always reluctant to consider anyone who cost more than €50 million the signing of the season, so I’m going to go for Emiliano Martinez, who cost Villa just under €20 million. He’s repaid them with 15 clean sheets and has arguably been the league’s best goalkeeper. Villa conceded 67 goals last season, and have let in just 45 this year. Money well spent.

In terms of worst signing, I’m not going to claim to know more than Arsenal’s recruitment department, but I’ve watched a lot of Chelsea games over the years and could have told them that signing Willian was not a good idea. Anytime I’ve watched him this season he’s just looked so off the pace.

Best individual performance you witnessed this season?

There’s been a few, but Jack Grealish in Villa’s 7-2 win over Liverpool back in October is the one that springs to mind.

Which Irish player has impressed you most?

Unfortunately, the shortlist here is pretty brief. Dara O’Shea has fared well in a struggling West Brom team, but I think Seamus Coleman had really excelled in the second half of the season and added so much to an Everton side who have struggled to get consistency from some of their more marquee players.

Which team did you most enjoy watching (aside from the club you support)?

Leeds United. I’m not sure if anyone has said this, but I think they’ve been a breath of fresh air in the Premier League.

Name your favourite moment from this season.

Liverpool 0 Chelsea 1 (Mount 42)

Describe the season in one sentence.

Stadiums empty but supporters still heard.

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