A new year means new hope and new beginnings, but before we all get carried away thinking about what the next twelve months might have in store, there’s the not-so-small matter of the final chapter of 2020 to deal with first.
Christmas practices may have been significantly different this time around but there was one constant to keep us all entertained – Premier League football which, even during these trying times, rarely manages to disappoint.
In fact, December was a pretty interesting month in the Premier League with all but two clubs, Crystal Palace and Burnley, finishing the 31-day period in a different position to the one they started it in.
Spurs plummeted from first all the way to seventh, while City jumped up from eleventh to eighth and Burnley managed to escape the relegation zone at Fulham’s expense.
But away from the teams and onto the individuals. Here are the six players who impressed us so much during the dying embers of 2020 that they’ve earned nominations for the GMS Fans’ Premier League Player of the Month award for December.
All statistics courtesy of Whoscored.
Nominee: Nick Pope
34 clean sheets were kept by goalkeepers in the Premier League throughout December, which is pretty astounding considering how many goals were flying in during the first few months of the season. Top flight defences have got their act together and the glovesmen are benefitting from that, albeit some inevitably more than others.
Nick Pope may not have been at the top of December’s clean sheets table, but having come in a respectable joint-second while recording 24 saves and conceding only three goals, the Burnley No.1 managed to tick boxes on multiple fronts.
Perhaps we’ve unfairly overlooked Emiliano Martinez, who made just two saves less than Pope while keeping an extra clean sheet, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that Burnley entered last month in 19th place, whereas the Argentine has been luxury to an in-form Villa side playing in front of him.
Pope has been crucial to Sean Dyche’s side escaping the relegation zone, making six saves in their 1-0 away win over Arsenal alone.
Nominee: James Justin
Before we begin discussing individuals, honourable mentions must go to the backlines at Aston Villa and Manchester City – they conceded just one goal apiece throughout the last month, resulting in four clean sheets each from five games.
Nonetheless, another defensive player has caught our attention for his December efforts – Leicester City’s versatile full-back James Justin. Last month saw him weigh in with an impressive 21 tackles across six games, as well as 13 key passes and five dribbles.
More than just impressive statistical returns, however, the 22-year-old gets the nod for two particularly noteworthy performances.
After completely embarrassing Dan Burn during Leicester’s 3-0 win over Brighton in which Justin nabbed his first assist of the season, his partnership with Marc Albrighton drew praise from Match of the Day’s Dion Dublin and Micah Richards as Brendan Rodgers’ side expertly dispensed of Spurs in a 2-0 win last month.
Nominees: Anwar El Ghazi, Tomas Soucek, Bruno Fernandes
There’s a pretty good chance November’s winner Bruno Fernandes will make it onto the shortlist for the majority of monthly Premier League awards this season, which not only attests to his impeccable playmaking abilities but also how much Manchester United rely on their talismanic midfield maestro.
December was another affluent month for the Portugal international with three goals and four assists, including a brace and a setup in Manchester United’s 6-2 demolition of Leeds at Old Trafford. He also managed to set a record for the most key passes in a single game this season (eight) against West Ham, despite only coming on at half-time to lead a glorious comeback for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side.
However, Fernandes was outscored by Aston Villa’s Anwar El Ghazi, whose incredible run of five goals in as many appearances throughout December saw him net the joint-most times of any Premier League player, while few could hold a candle to his return of 15 shots on target either.
But we aren’t only interested in the Premier League’s engine room tricksters, and thus the final midfield nominee of this month is a particularly unique one.
Tomas Soucek may not be the most fashionable of players by modern standards but his towering 6 foot 4 frame is certainly effective – he’s won the most headers of any midfielder in Europe this season by a gargantuan margin of 34. That’s almost as many as he won in December alone, while six outings last month yielded a return of three top flight goals.
Nominee: Mohamed Salah
Having both matched El Ghazi’s haul of five goals, albeit enjoying the luxury of one extra appearance each, the striker section of December’s GMS Fans’ award was always going to be a battle between two forwards on either side of the famous Northwest rivalry – Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah and Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford.
And although the England man will feel aggrieved to have missed out, ultimately he can’t have too many complaints with Salah adding an extra two assists on top of the aforementioned quintet of strikes. Fernandes is the only Premier League player to match his seven goal involvements in December.
Salah also produced one of the most potent cameo performances you’re ever likely to see in the Premier League, the Egyptian coming on with just 33 minutes left to go against Crystal Palace and yet still bagging two goals and one assist to help Liverpool to a stunning 7-0 victory.
Admittedly, the goals have dried up entirely since then, but Salah had already done enough by Christmas time to earn himself the final spot amongst this month’s nominees.