With the start of the season delayed due to coronavirus and football fans still unable to attend matches, it was an eerie beginning to the 2020-21 football calendar. Few could have predicted how it would all turn out. The champions, Liverpool, opened their account with a seven-goal thriller against newly-promoted Leeds as Marcelo Bielsa’s side traded blows with the Reds only for a late Mohamed Salah penalty to decide the contest 4-3. Liverpool would go on to beat Chelsea and Arsenal that month as they made a confident start to their title defence. Elsewhere, Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton won at Tottenham, and Leicester City tanked Manchester City 5-2 at the Etihad.
One of the defining moments of the season came in October, when Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk was scythed down by Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford in the Merseyside derby at Goodison. Van Dijk’s season was abruptly ended with a serious anterior cruciate ligament injury. However, Liverpool had already begun to show signs of defensive weaknesses: two weeks earlier, they were ruthlessly defeated by Aston Villa as Ollie Watkins scored a first-half hat-trick in a 7-2 win. Spurs were also 6-1 winners at Manchester United that day. Down at the bottom of the table, Sheffield United and Fulham both collected their first point of the campaign as they drew with one another.
Football bade farewell to the great Maradona in November after the Argentinian World Cup winner died of a heart attack aged 60. In the Premier League, Southampton climbed to the summit for the first time in their history thanks to a 2-0 win over Newcastle, before being leapfrogged by Tottenham who beat Manchester City. Elsewhere, a horrific injury to Wolves striker Raúl Jiménez – who fractured his skull in an aerial challenge with Arsenal’s David Luiz – ended his campaign and heightened widespread concerns over head injuries in football. And VAR made headlines at Selhurst Park when Patrick Bamford’s cleverly orchestrated finish for Leeds was deemed offside because the striker had pointed into space to show his team-mate where to play the ball.
Fans briefly returned to football grounds in December as the government allowed up to 4,000 spectators to attend matches in low-risk areas. However, the second wave of Covid-19 soon caused further restrictions. On the field, Leeds cemented their status as the season’s entertainers with a sequence of hectic matches: after stuffing Newcastle 5-2, they fell to a 6-2 defeat against Manchester United at Old Trafford before putting five past West Brom. Arsenal’s poor start to the season under Mikel Arteta continued – the image of Granit Xhaka throttling Burnley’s Ashley Westwood during a 1-0 defeat encapsulated their early season frustrations. Elsewhere, Liverpool hit Palace for seven away from home, leaving them top of the table on Christmas day.
Liverpool suffered their first defeat at Anfield for almost four years, with a 1-0 reverse against Burnley. Meanwhile, West Ham, won four on the spin from the turn of the new year to close in on the stuttering Reds. Across London, Chelsea sacked Frank Lampard when they were ninth in the table and replaced him with Thomas Tuchel following a 2-0 defeat at Leicester. As others faltered, Manchester City excelled: they moved top of the league with a 5-0 win over struggling West Brom.
Liverpool’s slump worsened through Feburary as they lost at home to Everton for the first time since 1999 (Liverpool ended up losing six in a row at Anfield, their worst home run ever) while Manchester City looked invincible home and away. The match between the two sides at Anfield saw City thump the hosts 4-1 despite an early penalty miss from Ilkay Gündogan. Elsewhere, the biggest win of the season came at Old Trafford where Manchester United battered nine-man Southampton 9-0 – the same score by which the Saints had lost to Leicester the previous season. Fulham’s five-game unbeaten streak gave them renewed hope in the relegation dogfight.
With relegation seemingly inevitable, Sheffield United parted company with manager Chris Wilder on the eve of their match with Leicester City, during which the in-form Kelechi Iheanacho scored a hat-trick. Elsewhere, Manchester City lost the Manchester derby 2-0 at home, ending their astonishing 21 game winning streak in all competitions. Nevertheless, the gap between the sides was still 11 points and would prove to be insurmountable. In the race for European places, West Ham blew a three goal lead at home to Arsenal, while Eric Lamela scored a magnificent rabona in the north London derby to earn goal of the month.
The self-declared “big six” clubs announced their intention to join the breakaway European Super League in April – a move which was met with scathing criticism from all quarters. Mass protests were staged outside the grounds of those involved as supporters hit back at the unseemly show of greed and entitlement. The action swiftly forced the clubs’ owners to withdraw from the plot. April also saw the departure of José Mourinho from Tottenham after 17 months in charge, while Jesse Lingard’s resurgence at West Ham continued apace as he picked up both the ‘player of the month’ and the ‘goal of the month’ accolades. Down at the bottom, Sheffield United were finally relegated, with Fulham and West Brom soon to follow.
When Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson went up for a corner in the dying seconds of their match against West Brom, the fate of Liverpool’s chaotic season was hanging in the balance. The Reds, drawing 1-1, knew victory would keep their hopes of Champions League qualification in their own hands going into the final two matches of the season. The Brazilian shot-stopper scored an unlikely header, triggering wild celebrations. Liverpool would ultimately finish third in the table, with Chelsea fourth, while Leicester City dropped to fifth on the final day after Kasper Schmeichel punched into his own net against Tottenham. At the Etihad, Manchester City celebrated their third league title under Pep Guardiola. City legend Sergio Agüero, who missed a paneka penalty earlier in the month, netted twice on the final day of the season – surrounded by 10,000 home fans – as City won the title by 12 points.