Champions Manchester City were without comparison in the Premier League. Here I pick my heroes and villains from the season. A disclaimer: I am a Liverpool supporter.
- Alisson (Liverpool goalkeeper).
Without Alisson’s 95th minute headed goal to beat West Brom, Liverpool would not have finished in the top four and they would not be playing in the Champions League next season. Alisson’s stunning effort, with the last play of the match, created Premier League history with him being the first Liverpool goalkeeper to ever score a goal. Liverpool had struggled all season in converting chances into goals and while teammate Mo Salah scored the league’s second most goals, there was none more spectacular and important as Alisson’s goal.
- Jesse Lingard (West Ham/Manchester United)
Manchester United didn’t want him and clearly didn’t know how to use him. He got a ticket out of Old Trafford to reunite with his old boss David Moyes and Lingard was reborn. He scored twice on his West Ham debut in a 3-1 win against Aston Villa and he remained in the starting line-up for the next 16 matches. He scored nine goals and made four assists and was massive in West Ham securing their highest Premier League finish in more than 20 years and also a spot in the group stage of the 2021/22 Europa League.
- Pep Guardiola (Manchester City)
There isn’t a better manager in professional sport than Manchester City’s Guardiola. He oozes class, in front of the camera and behind closed doors. He described his third Premier League title in four seasons as City’s boss as the most rewarding, given the challenges of Covid and playing with no fans. His City team played in 60 of a possible 61 matches in the four competitions, but their recovery from an indifferent start to the Premier League was unrivalled as they came from behind to be runaway winners. Guardiola’s Manchester City are a joy to watch for any football neutral. If you love football, you have to love Guardiola’s style of play.
- Sergio Augero (Manchester City)
The club’s favourite son of the past decade left the Premier League in exactly the same way he arrived, with a two-goal burst as a second half replacement. Augero’s first and last Premier League games for City defined his influence at the club and he leaves a five-time Premier League winner. Augero, in his 389th match for City, took his club tally to 260 goals and his Premier League total to 183 for City, which beat Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney’s record for the most goals scored by a player for one club. It was the fairytale finish to a fairytale City career.
- Jordan Pickford (Everton goalkeeper).
Pickford’s illegal tackle to injure and end Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk’s season will always rankle. It was the lowest point of my season. I may report on sport as a profession but I support Liverpool and here I am talking as a supporter and not a reporter. Van Dijk was always the glue to a successful title defence. Pickford is not the reason Liverpool did not win the title, but his cowardly challenge on Van Dijk certainly put the wheels of motion in place for Liverpool’s midseason implosion when the team took just 12 of a possible 42 league points.
I hate VAR like I don’t hate anything else in football. There is no consistency, there is only debate and there is still so much human error because it remains humans who rule on VAR. The on-field referee’s decision should be final. The referee will make mistakes and get some decisions wrong but football is a game played by humans and one that should be officiated on-field by humans. VAR, in the 2020/21 season directly affected 128 goals or incidents. 42 goals were disallowed, 34 goals were awarded, 29 penalties were awarded and 22 penalties were overturned.
- Jurgen Klopp
This one may surprise people, but Klopp, all charisma as Liverpool were cruising to the title in 2019/20 season, was petulant, crass and uncharismatic for most of the season. He was stubborn throughout the season after he lost Van Dijk and refused to make the necessary adjustments. To borrow from a Liverpool supporter mate of mine, it was frustrating to see a coach who was defined by his tactical excellence and selection descend into a shadow of himself in this context.