As a bizarre year comes to a close, Ciro Di Brita hands out the awards and highlights Europe’s most dangerous striker, most impressive team and a goal to go out your way to see…

Player of the Year – Robert Lewandowski, Bayern Munich and Poland

Robert Lewandowski netted 34 league goals last season and continued that spectacular scoring rate this term by scoring 12 times in his first nine Bundesliga games. The 32-year-old found the back of the net on 42 occasions before December was out as Bayern Munich lifted the league title, German Cup, Champions League, European Super Cup and German Super Cup. The Poland international’s haul of 42 goals and five trophies this calendar year makes him Player of the Year.

Young Player of the Year – Erling Braut Haaland, Borussia Dortmund and Norway

Erling Braut Haaland burst onto the scene in last season’s Champions League group stage by scoring in each of his first five games, including goals against both Napoli and Liverpool. The 20-year-old made a big money move to Borussia Dortmund in January and fired in the best part of 40 goals in all competitions for club and country in the months that followed. The Norway international won the Golden Boot at the 2019 U20 World Cup in Poland by scoring nine goals in a 12-0 win over Honduras in the group stage, and hasn’t let up since.

Team of the Year – Bayern Munich

Bayern Munich went from January to September without losing a game. By the time they finally fell, in a 4-1 defeat by Hoffenheim, they had swept up every trophy before them. It started in November 2019, after a 5-1 hammering at Eintracht Frankfurt and Niko Kovac was replaced as coach by his assistant, Hansi Flick. Bayern never looked back, racking up a 30-game unbeaten run, which included an astonishing 8-2 bashing of Barcelona in the Champions League quarter-final and put them well on the way to winning the treble.

Coach of the Year – Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool

By leading Liverpool to their first league title in 30 years – and in brilliant style – Jurgen Klopp wins the coach of the year award. The German arrived at Anfield in 2015 and took a couple of seasons to build a side that could compete for trophies. But over the past three years the Reds have lifted their sixth Champions League title, the Premier League, the FIFA Club World Cup, and the European Super Cup. This season several injuries have attempted to put the brakes on Liverpool’s title hopes and Klopp’s all-action, high-pressing approach, but it is likely we will see the Reds in the hunt for cups in the spring.

Nail-biter of the year – Liverpool 2-3 Atletico Madrid, March 11

Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid eliminating holders Liverpool in the quarter-finals of last season’s Champions League proved to be the most dramatic game of 2020 – and one of the last played in front of a stadium full of supporters. Atleti had a 1-0 lead from the first leg but Georginio Wijnaldum’s goal took the game to extra time. Roberto Firmino looked to have sent Liverpool through when he netted in the 94th minute but two goals – one each for Marcos Llorente and Alvaro Morata – turned the game on its head. Atleti used every trick in the book to maintain their lead and as Liverpool’s frustrations rose, Llorente grabbed a second to end a thrilling encounter.

The ‘sorry, can you repeat that?’ scoreline of the year – Aston Villa 7-2 Liverpool, October 4

Aston Villa putting seven goals past Liverpool wasn’t even the biggest margin of victory in a major competition of 2020, but Bayern Munich always has the potential to hammer Barcelona, even if eight goals still raised eyebrows. But Villa routing the defending Premier League champions? Some mistake, surely?

But no, Dean Smith’s side recorded the most surprising result of the year and began with two goals in 22 minutes. Mohamed Salah pulled one back for the Reds soon after and most onlookers would have expected Liverpool to take charge from there. Instead, the opposite happened. Liverpool capitulated as Villa hit four by half time, and three more after.

Wasted year…of the Year – Mesut Ozil, Arsenal

Mesut Ozil hasn’t kicked a ball in competitive action since March 7, when he was part of the Arsenal XI that beat West Ham through a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang goal. The rights and wrongs of his exclusion from the Arsenal first team notwithstanding, the former Germany international turned 32 in October and doesn’t have many more years left to waste. He has professed his love for the Gunners – and even offered to pay the salary of mascot Gunnersaurus when Arsenal planned to furlough the giant foam dinosaur – but at some point, he has to accept he has no future under Mikel Arteta, and find a new home.

Analyst of the Year – Roy Keane

Roy Keane was famous for being a no-nonsense footballer when he played and as a pundit is hardly renowned for holding his tongue. The former Republic of Ireland and Manchester United captain has enraptured the viewing public since swapping the pitch for the television studio, and his dissection of struggling United goalkeeper David De Gea at half-time in June’s 1-1 draw with Tottenham Hotspur was must-see TV. Keane went so far as to say he’d be ‘swinging punches’ at De Gea if he was his teammate, and wouldn’t have let him travel with the rest of the team after the match, such was his disgust at his performance.

Best Goal You Probably Didn’t See of the Year – Rodrigo De Paul, Udinese and Argentina

Like most years, 2020 had plenty of jaw-dropping goals. But one that probably flew under the radar was a gem from Udinese’s Rodrigo De Paul back in January. The Argentina international got an 88th-minute winner for the Zebrette against Lecce when he played a one-two inside a packed penalty area and controlled the return with his heel, dribbled past a couple of Giallorossi players and stabbed the ball past the goalkeeper. It was a brilliant piece of skill from the 26-year old, who nearly moved to the Premier League with Leeds over the summer, and is surely destined for bigger things.

Virtual fans of the Year – Gladbach’s cardboard cut-outs

Supporters have been locked out of stadiums for nine of the 12 months of 2020, but the crisis has at least led to innovation. Clubs have had to find new ways to bring an atmosphere to empty stadiums around the world, and Bundesliga side Borussia Monchengladbach led the way.

Gladbach installed thousands of life-size cardboard cut-outs of actual fans, with supporters paying around €20 to have their faces printed on them and seated around Borussia-Park. And Gladbach declined to make money from the venture, instead donating the proceeds to local causes and COVID-19 relief. It didn’t quite replace the noise of actual people, but it was the best attempt of any club.

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