With the Premier League season coming to an end, The Hard Tackle takes a look at the three players who revived their careers in 2020/21.
2020/21 was quite a roller-coaster of a season. There were some rude shocks and a few pleasant surprises. After all, very few would have predicted Sheffield United to suffer relegation less than a year after clinching a top half finish in 2019/20. On the flip side, West Ham United qualified for Europe while Aston Villa nearly finished in the top half of the table, having only narrowly avoided the drop last term.
Leeds United, meanwhile, did a Sheffield United and finished 9th, a mere six points off of West Ham. As for the top four teams, Manchester City scripted a remarkable turnaround after having been as low as 8th approaching the turn of the year. Manchester United continued on their upward trajectory under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer while Liverpool and Chelsea took it right till the final day to confirm Champions League qualification.
Suffice to say, there were many feel-good stories to talk about over the course of the season and that holds true for several players as well, who have embarked on a comeback trail of their own. So, while the talk of the town is about which signings worked and which did not, in this feature, we will talk about players who ended up reviving their respective careers in the 2020/21 Premier League season.
There were many-a-candidate to be a part of the list but we have zeroed in on a final three who took us all by surprise with their respective turnarounds and ended up proving their naysayers wrong while also carving out a place of their own in their teams. With that in mind, The Hard Tackle presents three players who revived their careers in the recently-concluded campaign.
There were players who took their time to get going before making the kind of impact that very few would have envisioned of them. Then there were those who grabbed the initiative early on and hardly ever slipped up over the course of the season. One such player was John Stones.
It did take Aymeric Laporte to miss a few games due to the fact that he tested positive for COVID-19 and sustained a knock early in the season for him to get an umpteenth chance to impress Pep Guardiola. However, after years of flattering to deceive, the 27-year-old finally delivered the goods at Manchester City.
In fact, such was the impact he made that Manchester City conceded just 8 goals in the 19 matches that he and partner Ruben Dias started together, keeping a remarkable 13 clean sheets in the process. On a personal front, Stones had some remarkable numbers as well, boasting the best pass completion rate of all players in the Premier League at 94.3 percent.
In addition, the English international had the best pressure success rate in the Manchester City squad at an impressive 38.9 percent, while the Premier League champions had a goal difference of +41 with him on the pitch – only Ederson Moraes and Ruben Dias can claim better numbers on that front.
On the back of such a campaign, Stones has also won his place back in the English national side and could be the starting centre-back for them at the upcoming UEFA Euro 2020. Truly a fantastic turnaround for Stones in the Premier League season gone by.
We will now talk about two players who had to wait until the second half of the season to make the kind of impression they were yearning to before the turn of the year. First up is Jesse Lingard, who has shocked and delighted many since joining West Ham United on loan from Manchester United.
It was not too long ago that Lingard was written off by one and nearly all after a disastrous 2019/20 campaign that had seen him go almost the entire Premier League campaign without scoring a goal. Over the course of that season, he had also been on the receiving end of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s ire before losing his spot to the talismanic Bruno Fernandes.
At the onset of the 2020/21 season, Lingard was nowhere to be seen at Manchester United, and as the January transfer window opened, the 28-year-old was desperate for a move. That move finally came at the latter stages of the winter window, and Lingard has not looked back since, grabbing a tally of 9 goals and 5 assists in just 16 Premier League appearances.
Delving deeper into the numbers, Lingard is well in the top ten for the goals per 90 minutes ratio (0.57) while also being in the top five for goals+assists per 90 rankings (0.82). In addition, he also impressed with a goals-creating actions per 90 ratio of 0.70, which was comparable with the best of players in the Premier League.
And, like Stones, Lingard has also made a big comeback on the international stage and looks primed to be a part of the England squad at the Euros. Top notch. At club level, though, an intriguing summer beckons Lingard, with West Ham United keen on signing him permanently.
Last but not the least is another player who had become an afterthought for several Premier League watchers for the longest time. After all, Jamie Vardy has been ageing like fine wine in recent years while also having won the Golden Boot last term. Kelechi Iheanacho, though, ended the season in style.
In fact, in the final two months of the season, there were hardly any players who were on the same level as the 24-year-old, as far as form is concerned. And, by the end of the campaign, Iheanacho had a respectable return of 12 goals and 2 assists in 25 Premier League appearances – only 16 of which were starts.
By the end of the campaign, Iheanacho had the best goals per 90 ratio in the Premier League (0.74) while also ranking third in the goals plus assists per 90 ratio (0.86), all while having a decent enough xG of 0.48 per 90 minutes. In addition, he also mustered up 3.58 shots per 90 minutes – only Harry Kane and Aleksandar Mitrovic surpassed Iheanacho on this account.
With Jamie Vardy seemingly showing signs of age starting to catch up to him, Iheanacho’s advent this term bodes well for Leicester City, as they look to lay down a succession plan for the veteran striker. It could, in turn, also alleviate the Foxes of the need to sign a top class striker, although with Arsenal and Chelsea keeping a keen eye on him, one cannot be sure enough yet.
Honourable Mentions: Luke Shaw and Ilkay Gundogan
In the truest sense of the term ‘revival’, neither Luke Shaw nor Ilkay Gundogan scripted any sort of a turnaround. However, the duo did end up going from having a precarious position in their respective clubs to becoming one of the first names on the team sheet for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Pep Guardiola, respectively.
In fact, Shaw has proven to be one of the best English players in the 2020/21 Premier League season, and won the Manchester United Players’ Player of the Year award as well. As for Gundogan, he added new facets to his game, which, in turn, helped him become the shock top scorer for Manchester City in the Premier League this term with 13 goals. All in all, a top comeback effort of sorts.