Aston Villa 7-2 Liverpool, 4 October
This was the Sunday it appeared the Premier League was embracing a new abnormal. Immediately preceding this was Tottenham’s 6-1 win at Manchester United but here was a result yet more psychedelic.
Perhaps the signposts to madness had been laid out. After beating Arsenal 3-1 the previous Monday, Jürgen Klopp had reacted badly to Roy Keane’s remark that Liverpool’s defending had been “sloppy”. As Liverpool were carved open by Jack Grealish and with Ollie Watkins grabbing a hat-trick, Keane’s trademark smirk must have been glorious to behold.
Liverpool were not helped by the presence of Adrián in goal in the absence of Alisson, and his error for Villa’s first goal set the tone for a performance of defensive calamity. It is worth mentioning that Virgil van Dijk was present and correct in central defence and that Villa, with Grealish at his brilliant best, were devastating.
Tottenham 3-3 West Ham, 18 October
Among the freak events of early-season was the apparition of Tottenham putting in a title challenge under José Mourinho. The swagger was back, and ever so briefly it appeared a formula of Harry Kane and Son Heung-min plus nine other blokes might just work.
When one from Son and two from Kane had Spurs three up after 16 minutes and still leading by that score with eight minutes to play, fresh Mourinho tributes were being teased. Then came a header from Fabián Balbuena, an own goal from Davinson Sánchez, a costly miss from Gareth Bale, and finally a 25-yard lash from Manuel Lanzini in the 94th minute to equalise.
“Since we came back from lockdown we’ve been a completely different team,” said David Moyes. His side had revealed a resilience that would stay the course of the season. Unlike Spurs and Mourinho.
Manchester United 9-0 Southampton, 2 February
Further deepening the strangeness of this season is that a scoreline for the ages, never bettered by a home or away team in the Premier League era, is a tad forgotten. That may have something to do with Southampton normalising the scoreline by being on end of it as recently as October 2019, to Leicester. On 6 November, Southampton were top of the table, while Manchester United were 15th. They ended this chastening evening in 12th, with United in second.
As in that Leicester defeat, Southampton were not helped by an early sending-off, though Alexandre Jankewitz could have few complaints after his horrible tackle on Scott McTominay two minutes in. A second dismissal, that of Jan Bednarek, was later overturned, though it came when Saints were seven down during a period in which United ran in five goals in the space of 21 minutes.
Liverpool 1-4 Manchester City, 7 February
For a team who were winning the title from a long way out, there has been an absence of keynote matches from the champions. Instead, City’s best performances have largely come in the Champions League.
This Premier League changing of the guard will have to do, even if it is probably better remembered for a disaster of a display from Alisson. In the space of three second-half minutes, the Liverpool goalkeeper presented Ilkay Gündogan and Raheem Sterling with City’s second and third, through attempts to play the ball out that had Jamie Carragher squawking in the Sky commentary box.
Manchester City fans may instead recall the brilliance of Phil Foden, whose speed of thought and movement ravaged Liverpool even before he completed the rout with a thrilling goal. He and Gündogan, who missed an early penalty but scored twice, were just too good for Liverpool, by that time lurching into crisis.
Chelsea 2-5 West Brom, 3 April
Thomas Tuchel came to Stamford Bridge to be the anti-Frank Lampard, to instil defensive order where there was chaos, particularly against the counterattack. Chelsea had not conceded more than one goal in any game since his appointment before this special lunchtime serving of Premier League silliness.
As Sam Allardyce signed off from managing West Brom last week, he recalled his team’s win at Stamford Bridge as “brilliant”. If it proves the last time an Allardyce team got one over on the monied elite, it was certainly among his most enjoyable heists.
Thiago Silva’s 29th-minute red card with Chelsea 1-0 up was of assistance, but Matheus Pereira and Callum Robinson were devastating on the counter. The hosts had no answer to that, or the Cheshire Cat smile from Allardyce that grew ever broader as events unfolded.