It all began on August 9, 2019. 353 days later, a fortnight shy of a full entire year, the 28th Premier League season has come to its conclusion. It has ended with a new, seventh different winner, a total of seven managerial dismissals, over 1000 goals scored, and even events away from the pitch that conspired to beleaguer the beautiful game hasn’t stopped the English top tier from being that revered stage for paradigm performance art, with a plethora of memorable moments that have continually rewarded the working week for the football fan.
Manchester City jewel Kevin de Bruyne could have virtually had a list of his own; there could have been many a toss-ups between a Manchester United underwhelm and overwhelm, Michaeil Antonio emerged from lockdown a man possessed; Bournemouth may have been bruised and broken but even the Cherries produced their own early season shocks; Allan Saint-Maximin, with his infectious, Duracell-battery energy has proven to be a one-man circus demanding attention; imports Giovani Lo Celso, Christian Pulisic and Bruno Fernandes have all taken to life in England with gusto.
The Sportsman has narrowed it down to just five key indelible instances that have punctuated the respective campaigns of the twenty teams that have competed, struggled, strived and entertained over the past year. Here’s to the 2020/21 season.
Liverpool 3-1 Manchester City: November 10, 2019
Liverpool. Thirty long years of hurt, banished. The longest engagement has finally ended in marriage. It used to be the most famous union in football but had been estranged for three decades. Jürgen Klopp’s team came agonisingly close in the prior campaign, losing out by a single point, and a single defeat, but the German’s reliance in his team and faith in his operation produced no spectacular summer signings (there was £39m income and just an £8m outlay).
Having won the last nine games of the 2018/19 season, the Reds continued from whence they left off, dropping points in just one out of 27 games, which included a record-equalling 18 matches in a row. No game was more symbolic of their intention to forgo disappointment and go one better than the previous season, than when they welcomed the incumbent champions to Anfield. It took only six minutes for Liverpool to open the scoring, through a Fabinho screamer, and went three to the good before City could offer a retort. It wasn’t just an excellent scoreline for the men who would be kings, but produced equal entertainment on the sidelines, as Klopp’s counterpart Pep Guardiola finally resorted to screaming to the high heavens with his continual contention of referee Michael Oliver’s decisions. The game was the marker. The moment where it started to become obvious of Liverpool’s unrelenting, unmerciful gaze: their eyes were firmly on the prize.
Ultimately, as much as the season has been sadly about the worldwide pandemic, it should be remembered as Liverpool’s success story.
Southampton 0 - 9 Leicester City: October 25, 2019
...Or ‘the Foxes’ generous gift to Ipswich Town. Long had the Tractor Boys been slapped with the humiliating tag of being on the wrong end of the biggest defeat in Premier League history. Though that might not have changed, at least thanks to unbelievable scenes of Halloween 2019, they finally - after almost a quarter of a century - had someone to share the ignominy with.
There were five different scorers for the visiting side at Saint Mary’s, with Ayoze Pérez and Jamie Vardy fighting over the match-ball. In just Gameweek 10 with such an embarrassing capitulation on home turf things were looking grim for Ralph Hasenhüttl and Southampton, who wallowed in the relegation zone with the joint-worst goal difference in the league, Brendan Rodgers and Leicester were positively beaming with what set the be their best campaign since their historic title-winning season of 15/16.
However, the game significantly proved how misleading the season can be in its infancy. Leicester’s sheep-in-wolf’s clothing title-challenge all but crumbled when they were demolished by eventual champions Liverpool on Boxing Day, but all credit to the Saints who stuck by Hasenhüttl and gained a solid footing, when for other clubs such a huge loss would have proven to be the gaffer’s death knell.
Heung-min Son v Burnley: December 23, 2019.
He picked up the ball just outside his area. He was able to after James Tarkowski hadn’t been able to receive Dwight McNeil pass properly inside the Spurs box. He was around two feet away from the 18-yard box marking. The sensible, predictable thing might have been for him to play a looping pass or outside of the foot through-ball to the more advanced Lucas Moura, a move that may have indeed granted him still-respectable plaudits.
But no. Instead, there was the simply breath-taking covering of 70 meters in 12 seconds through just 12 touches. At one point on the pitch, six Clarets players were around him, helpless. The burst of speed cutting through them until there was just the remaining Burnley defenders Ben Mee and Matt Lowton to beat, but by the time the onrushing Nick Pope came out of his net, it already seemed the final product was inevitable.
Spurs superstar Heung-min Son had just scored the stunner of the season.
Norwich 3-2 Manchester City: September 14, 2019
You have to love it when a minnow outwits a shark.
First and foremost, apologies to Manchester City - it seems sly to include two defeats on this list. Instead it is testament to the quality that they have shown over the past several seasons of the Guardiola era that they have been the Premier League watermark: now the standard for both superlative-defying soccer, and plucky underdog upsets.
They’re haven’t been many moments for Norwich City to salivate over this season, but a 3-2 victory over the dominant English side in recent years will live long in memory. After just half an hour, Carrow Road was in rapture, with the home side 2-0 ahead thanks to Kenny McLean’s header and Todd Cantwell finished a flowing move that retrospectively spread the plaudits for Norwich’s football for the rest of the season, despite an abysmal campaign. Sergio Agüero brought back some dignity for the Blues just before the break, but resurgence was short-lived when Teemu Pukki struck.
Funnily enough, remember when Pukki was being seriously considered as a contender for Golden Boot? Those were the days...
Watford 3-0 Liverpool: February 29, 2020.
To paraphrase Magnus Magnusson, we’ve started with Liverpool, so we’ll finish with them too.
It happened at Vicarage Road. 29 Feb 2020. Liverpool’s extension of 44 league matches unbeaten seemed as sure as the turning of the Earth. They hadn’t lost a single league game in 13 months.
The champions-elect were to play woeful Watford - a side who hadn’t won any of their first eleven games of the season, and who had been perpetually mired in the relegation swamp throughout. Watford, who through the seven months of season had had almost as many managers as league victories, with Javi Gracia, Quique Sánchez Flores, and Nigel Pearson having all taken the anathematized hotseat.
Watford who, a week before, had been whomped 3-0 at Old Trafford by Manchester United (a game in which Bruno Fernandes scored his first ever league goal).
And yet. And yet: Football.
A brilliant brace provided only one of the real glimpses all season as to why the Hornets had parted with £30million to make Ismaïla Sarr their record-signing. Fittingly, Captain Fantastic Troy Deeney was there to put the icing on the cake. It was the biggest victory over a side starting the day top of the top-flight table by a team in the relegation zone in 35 years, and Watford’s first top-flight victory against a side starting the day top of the table since the final day of the 1982-83 season. Coincidentally it was Liverpool that day as well (2-1).
Following Watford’s humbling of the Merseyside outfit, there were also both celebrations in Manchester, and particularly in North London, as Arsenal and their fans continued to cherish their historic unbeaten season of 2003/04.
Liverpool proved once again: it’s hard to be Invincible.