Premier League season recap – How title race, top four and relegation unfolded

So that’s all folks. Over for another season. And what a strange one it’s been.

The Premier League season kicked off for the first time ever without supporters present but there was no shortage of thrills, spills, action and talking points as Manchester City eventually romped their way to the title.

But it certainly wasn’t straightforward, and there were plenty of surprises on the way.

Among them, Jose Mourinho’s tenure at Tottenham came to a premature end despite their early title charge, while Liverpool spontaneously combusted thanks largely to their damaging injury crisis.

Arsenal had their worst campaign in decades while the likes of Leicester, West Ham and Everton threatened to upset the established order, though three recently promoted clubs were sent packing at the other end of the table.

Here’s a timely and comprehensive reminder of how it all unfolded.

Manchester City were crowned champions after another superb season


VAR controversy and a Bruno Fernandes penalty became familiar sights from day one
VAR controversy and a Bruno Fernandes penalty became familiar sights from day one

After the Covid-19 pandemic knocked the season’s curtain raiser back a month, the Premier League finally got underway with Newcastle’s opening day victory away at West Ham.

But all eyes were firmly on Anfield the following day as champions Liverpool played out a thrilling 4-3 clash with newly-promoted entertainers Leeds, whose first three fixtures saw a mammoth 15 goals.

Jurgen Klopp’s men started where they left off with three wins from three, including over Chelsea and Arsenal, but were joined at the top of the table by Merseyside rivals Everton and Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester.

The Toffees had started in exciting form, earning a solid opening win away at Tottenham before thumping nine goals in their next two matches.

It was Leicester who claimed the result of the opening month, though, picking up all three points at the Etihad in a 5-2 scoreline which made an early dent in Man City’s title hopes.

On the same day West Ham hit four past Wolves in an early indication of their capabilities – but two higher scoring fixtures would dominate Super Sunday in the weeks to come.

Meanwhile a revitalised Aston Villa had made a bright start while Chelsea’s inconsistency was typified by the game of two halves at the Hawthorns ,which saw them come from three down to draw 3-3 with West Brom.

At the foot of the table Fulham were given little hope of survival after three back-to-back defeats, while Sheffield United were also 0 for 3.

Man Utd came unstuck early on too in a shock defeat at home to Crystal Palace before bouncing back against Brighton thanks to Bruno Fernandes’ late penalty winner against the Seagulls after the full-time whistle had blown.

Just a day prior Eric Dier had been penalised for an unfortunate handball at Newcastle as VAR wreaked havoc over the opening weeks of the campaign.


Virgil van Dijk's injury against Everton proved to be a decisive factor in the title race
Virgil van Dijk’s injury against Everton proved to be a decisive factor in the title race

Question marks were quickly being raised over Man City after they were held to a draw by Leeds, although the fixture did hand a debut to a certain Ruben Dias, who would become pivotal over the course of the season.

There were big wins for Everton and Chelsea too, but nothing quite as dramatic as what occurred at Old Trafford and Villa Park.

Man Utd were hit for six by Tottenham, who showed their title credentials by ruthlessly capitalising on some calamitous defending – though worse was to come when Liverpool were hammered 7-2 by Aston Villa as Ollie Watkins bagged a hat-trick.

Leicester were beaten 3-0 by West Ham too as the title race suddenly looked like a free-for-all.

Liverpool’s chances took a more significant blow a week later when their 2-2 draw against Everton was marred by a serious injury to Virgil van Dijk, ruling him out for the season.

United and City soon got back to winning ways over Newcastle and Arsenal respectively, while Fulham and Sheffield United got off the mark with their first points after drawing with each other, with Burnley and West Brom not much further ahead.

We were then treated to a London derby cracker as Manuel Lanzini’s equaliser at 3-3 completed a last-ditch 12-minute comeback from West Ham to earn a point at Tottenham.

Villa’s win over Leicester put them a point off the top with a game in hand, while Everton had their first blip at the hands of Southampton who were ticking along nicely with Crystal Palace and Wolves following closely behind inside the top half.


Mikel Arteta soon found himself under pressure as Arsenal's form dipped dramatically
Mikel Arteta soon found himself under pressure as Arsenal’s form dipped dramatically

Arsenal started the month with a big win away at Old Trafford in what proved to be their last league victory for eight matches as pressure slowly began to mount on Mikel Arteta over the course of the month, with the 3-0 loss at home to Aston Villa particularly damning.

It proved to be an historic month for Southampton who went top of the Premier League table for the first time ever with wins over Aston Villa and Newcastle, albeit momentarily.

And Fulham began to show signs of a revival with their first victory of the season over West Brom, while Everton’s successive defeats to Newcastle and Man Utd saw them drop to eighth.

By this time the scoring exploits of Harry Kane and Son Heung-min were in full flow as Tottenham took to the summit alongside Liverpool, who lost Joe Gomez to injury in a second hammer blow to their season.

The Reds had managed to escape the Etihad with a point as Man City started to bear their teeth, but Pep Guardiola’s side were pegged back a week later when Jose Mourinho got one over his old rival, before recovering to take their anger out on Burnley in a 5-0 thrashing.

Leicester’s inconsistency continued but they stayed in the hunt for top spot as West Ham and Wolves also kept pace in the European spots, while Chelsea’s improved form pushed them up to third.

Meanwhile Crystal Palace’s 4-1 win over Leeds saw VAR rear its ugly head again as Patrick Bamford’s goal was chalked off for his offside arm, while Brighton nicked a point off Liverpool via a dubious penalty.

Elsewhere Burnley finally got their first win thanks to Chris Wood’s goal vs Crystal Palace, and Edinson Cavani’s brace in Man Utd’s second half comeback against Southampton showed promising signs.


Liverpool smashed seven past Palace to top the table at Christmas - but things soon turned sour
Liverpool smashed seven past Palace to top the table at Christmas – but things soon turned sour

The old adage of eventual champions being top at Christmas has never been proven more wrong – not that you’d have predicted it when Liverpool opened up some breathing space with a 7-0 drubbing of Crystal Palace.

A convincing win over Wolves and a decisive late header from Roberto Firmino against Tottenham helped put them in the driving seat, but their form soon hit the skids, while the warning signs had been there in a draw at Fulham, who were showing some fighting spirit.

Man City could clearly smell blood as their unbeaten run soon kicked into life after Guardiola criticised his team following the draw with West Brom, who celebrated the huge point by sacking Slaven Bilic in the first managerial casualty of the season.

Arsenal’s woes continued as they lost bragging rights to rivals Tottenham, and Granit Xhaka became public enemy No.1 again at the Emirates after being sent off in the home defeat to Burnley.

It left the Gunners at one stage teetering above the relegation zone, but a Boxing Day win over Chelsea bought Arteta some time as Frank Lampard was soon plunged into his own crisis amid a run of poor results.

Man Utd put themselves firmly back in contention with another comeback win – this time over West Ham, followed by further victories against Sheffield United, Leeds and Wolves, along with crucial points at Man City and Leicester.

Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton were just about clinging on to any feint title hopes but Tottenham swiftly fell off the pace with Aston Villa soon stuck in mid-table.

At the other end West Brom conceded five at home to Crystal Palace then later against Leeds, while Sheffield United still had just two points to their name and looked virtually doomed heading into 2021.


Paul Pogba scored the winner at Burnley as Man Utd emerged as title contenders, albeit briefly
Paul Pogba scored the winner at Burnley as Man Utd emerged as title contenders, albeit briefly

Ole’s at the wheel and suddenly Man Utd fans were dreaming again of title success.

The Red Devils flew into the new year with wins over Aston Villa and Burnley – the latter of which suggested Solskjaer’s side had a bit more about them than credited, as a valuable point at Anfield kept them top of the table.

It wasn’t to be though as despite another late winner from Paul Pogba at Fulham was followed up by a shock defeat to Sheffield United and a disappointing draw at Arsenal as Man City came through the pack to take charge.

City smashed in 16 goals in six wins to end the month three points clear with a game in hand, as Liverpool were left scrambling for a centre-back on deadline day after Joel Matip’s injury and a demoralising loss to Southampton, while Fortress Anfield was no more following the dismal defeat to Burnley.

In the meantime Roman Abramovich had seen enough at Stamford Bridge, swapping Lampard for Thomas Tuchel as Timo Werner continued to misfire for Chelsea, while Tottenham began sinking without trace.

A mini resurgence from Arsenal boosted them into the top half surrounded by the likes of Everton, Aston Villa and Southampton, who appeared to have found their rightful places.

And Leeds shook off some troubling form to step away from the relegation battle, which by now was already looking a foregone conclusion.


Phil Foden's star showing at Liverpool had the title drifting back towards the Etihad
Phil Foden’s star showing at Liverpool had the title drifting back towards the Etihad

Start engraving the trophy now, fellas, it’ll be Man City again…

That was pretty much the lay of the land by the time February came to a close with City 10 points clear and looking unstoppable.

Their formidable central pairing of Dias and John Stones looked impenetrable as the likes of Phil Foden run riot, with their 4-1 demolition of Liverpool all-but signalling the title was heading back to the Etihad following two Alisson blunders.

Liverpool’s challenge was over by then but defeats to Brighton, Leicester and Everton in the same month soon had the Reds fearing for a spot in Europe.

United delivered the second 9-0 drubbing to Southampton in recent memory but failure to beat Everton, West Brom and Chelsea saw the title slip from their grasp.

Leicester were the only team following them in the desperate pursuit of the league leaders but Jamie Vardy’s goals quickly dried up, while Jesse Lingard sparked into life and looked to be firing West Ham to the Champions League as Arsenal and Tottenham suffered mixed results.

Steve Bruce was suddenly under pressure at Newcastle as they were dragged closer to the relegation fight amid Fulham’s upturn in form, while Leeds, Wolves and Crystal Palace cemented their mid-table positions.


Chris Wilder was sacked with Sheffield United heading for relegation
Chris Wilder was sacked with Sheffield United heading for relegation

Enough was enough for Sheffield United, who finally parted company with Chris Wilder as the Blades were already heading for the drop.

Man City tightened their grip on the title as their 4-1 win over Wolves saw them reach a record 28 games unbeaten in all competitions, but had a minor setback in their 2-0 home defeat to Man Utd, though nothing was knocking them off course at this stage.

United and Leicester had dropped points of their own while two more defeats to Liverpool – including one at home to Fulham – put them well out of the picture.

Chelsea were soon stringing together a run of performance under Tuchel which gave hope to a top four finish, but Arsenal’s chances were dashed with just one win from four as even the Europa League looked a slender possibility.

The Gunners did manage to take all three points in the North London derby over Tottenham though, whose form under Mourinho was a cause for concern for the club’s owners as a Champions League place was hanging in the balance.

West Ham continued to impress but injuries began chipping away at their ambitions, while Fulham and Newcastle were left in a straight shootout for the final relegation place as West Brom were cut adrift.


Football fans reacted with fury at the plans of the 'Big Six' to form a breakaway Super League
Football fans reacted with fury at the plans of the ‘Big Six’ to form a breakaway Super League

Sorry, you want to do what?!

Football action on the field very much took a back seat in mid-April as the game as we know it was threatened with the very real prospect of a breakaway European Super League (ESL) forming involving the ‘Big Six’.

For 48 hours football was plunged into chaos as Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher rallied the nation into mass protesting to overturn the greedy plot.

And the house of cards soon came tumbling…. as Chelsea and Man City were the first to go, with Tottenham, Arsenal, Liverpool and Man Utd quickly following with their tails between their legs.

Back on the field and it was almost laughable that some of them were involved, considering Arsenal and Liverpool were struggling to fight their way into Europe, while amidst all the furore, Tottenham decided to axe Mourinho without warning.

Well, maybe it had been coming – draws with Newcastle and Everton sandwiched a defeat to Man Utd which left Spurs off the pace of those in front while the two Merseyside clubs had the chance to leapfrog them in the table.

Man City were at this stage so nailed on as champions that they could even afford to drop three points against Leeds, while Chelsea overcame a surprise 5-2 beating by West Brom to put the pressure on Leicester in third.

Liverpool looked to be turning the screw with wins over Arsenal and Aston Villa, but draws with Leeds and Newcastle followed, while West Ham seemed to be regularly scoring three with Lingard in their ranks and won their crucial battle with Leicester before slipping up to Chelsea.

At the bottom, Sheffield United’s trip back to the Championship was confirmed with a defeat to Wolves courtesy of Willian Jose’s winner, with West Brom and Fulham following closely behind as Newcastle battled their way out of trouble.


Sergio Aguero bid farewell to Man City with two goals in his final match at the Etihad
Sergio Aguero bid farewell to Man City with two goals in his final match at the Etihad

The fallout from the Super League stretched into May as Man Utd’s clash with Liverpool was postponed due to protests which saw fans gain entry into Old Trafford before clashing violently with police outside.

United eventually went on to secure second spot with a game to spare, but not before they’d lost to Liverpool in their fourth game in eight days.

West Brom and Fulham were put out of their misery as their relegations were confirmed with disappointing yet apt defeats to Arsenal and Burnley respectively.

Meanwhile Harry Kane signalled his intentions to leave Tottenham but was still embroiled in a fierce battle for the Golden Boot which he won ahead of Mohamed Salah in the last game.

It was the top four race which stole the show on the final day as it went down to the wire with Liverpool, Chelsea and Leicester all in contention.

Liverpool had found some form and had the wind behind them after the win over Man Utd as they charged for a top four berth, though had to rely on a header at the death from goalkeeper Alisson to snatch a vital three points at West Brom.

Subsequent victories over Burnley and Crystal Palace were much more clear cut and the Reds even managed to remarkably finish third as results went their way.

Meanwhile Chelsea had won their crucial battle against Leicester having lost the FA Cup final just days prior, but tensions flared as a 20-man brawl ensued mid-match.

That left the Foxes chasing Chelsea’s tails but they only had themselves to blame for missing out on Champions League football for the second year running as they were unable to hold onto their lead at over Spurs while Thomas Tuchel admitted his side were lucky to nab fourth after defeat at Aston Villa.

And over at the Etihad Man City finished another remarkable campaign by hammering Everton 5-0 with Sergio Aguero bagging two goals on his farewell, before collecting their trophy and taking their throne as rightful champions.

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