Congratulations to Manchester City whose 1-3 win at Wembley, combined with United’s shock defeat at home to West Brom, won them their third Premier League title, proving my early season prediction wrong in the process. Despite the win at Old Trafford, West Brom’s chances of survival are still slim (at best) as they are at least 9 points behind Swansea – who have a game in hand – with an inferior goal difference. Andy Carroll’s late equaliser may have doomed Stoke to life in the Championship, while Southampton’s 2-0 start against Chelsea was ruined by 3 goals in 9 minutes and leaves Mark Hughes close to his first ever relegation as a player or a manager.
Congratulations also to Wolves, who are now guaranteed a place in the Premier League next season!
What’s next for the best?
City’s run to the title has been dominant this season! In 33 matches, they have only failed to take maximum points 5 times (2 losses and 3 draws) and they currently have a goal difference of +68, 25 higher than the next best goal difference (Liverpool). Pep Guardiola will have very little competition for Manager of the Season – I would argue only Sean Dyche can potentially beat him to this award – as he has made this team almost unbeatable in the toughest of the top domestic leagues. He has clearly worked hard on developing his players and it is helping players like Raheem Sterling begin to live up to their potential.
But the Sky Blues cannot rest on their laurels and will need to work hard to defend their title next year, especially if they plan to progress further in the Champions League.So what do they need to look at ahead of next season:
- Plan B – As dangerous as City have been in attack this season, they will eventually come up against teams who set up well enough to stop the Sky Blues’ current tactics. For that reason I feel they need to look at finding another striker. Jesus and Aguero (if he stays) are both fantastic strikers but they have similar playing styles, I would argue that Guardiola needs to find a taller and more physical striker to give their attack an extra dimension and a more direct option. Imagine the fun De Bruyne and Sané would have crossing the ball in to a target man. The quality of the supporting players is such that it will not require a top name to fill this spot, as they will get the chances and just need to be able to finish them – just look at how Kelechi Iheanacho has struggled since leaving the Etihad. If they could get him, a player like Fernando Llorente would probably have more success in this team than he has had at Spurs this season.
- Increased depth – If City want to defend their league title and win the Champions League next season then they need to improve their depth. They were heavilylinked with Riyad Mahrez in January and I think that he would be a great addition for them as he, Sané and Starling will give Guardiola great selection headaches and allow for greater rotation, while Phil Foden should also continue to get more minutes as he develops. Fernandinho is probably one of the most underrated players in the squad and I would recommend Guardiola try to find a capable understudy to ensure City do not struggle if he picks up a long-term injury, while the team could also do with improving their depth at fullback, as we saw this year that the quality wasn’t quite there behind Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy, who missed so much of the season he will almost feel like a new signing next season.
- Settled defence –
Last week when discussing the importance of David de Gea to United’s season, I compared some of his key stats to the main keepers in the other Top 6 clubs. Despite playing the same number of games and Ederson having to make only half as many saves, United had still managed to keep more clean sheets in the league so far this season. City have a number of quality centre backs (Stones, Kompany, Laporte and Otamendi) yet they still concede more goals than they should. Injuries have not helped, but the form of these players has been up and down like a yo-yo. It will be difficult for City to keep scoring at such an impressive rate next season, so they need to make things safer at the back. They have the players, now they just need to perform.
Crime and punishment
2 challenges this weekend, both awful, but different punishments. Ben Davies put in a horrible high challenge on Vincent Kompany with his studs catching him not far below the knee. How he did not receive a red card I don’t know, I can only assume the officials had a bad angle as he only received a yellow. Even more ridiculous was the lack of punishment from Mike Dean when Marcos Alonso planted his studs in the top of Shane Long’s calf right under the referee’s nose. It was an unnecessary and horrible challenge, but luckily as Dean missed it Alonso will receive a retroactive punishment, unfortunately Davies will not receive any further punishment as the referee clearly saw the incident and acted on it during the match. To me, this is ridiculous.
This isn’t the first time this season that I have suggested introducing an idea from rugby, but I think that football could benefit from a citing system. In rugby, a player can be cited for an on-pitch incident regardless of whether the referee has seen and acted on the incident. This means that if an independent panel finds that the referee’s punishment has been too lenient – as with the yellow card to Davies – the player can still receive a fitting punishment for his actions. For such a professional sport, there is far too much of an opportunity for a poor refereeing decision to impact the league, not just that week but for the next couple of weeks! I can see already the arguments that football has managed fine without this for years and that it is taking away the authority of the referee, but nobody treats the referee with any respect or authority as it is (just look at the hordes of players around him every time he blows his whistle) and surely as fans of the sport we would rather see the right decisions being made and players receiving the punishments they deserve. Just imagine if Davies nets the winner against Brighton…
The race for Europe
Who would have thought all those months ago when Burnley started the season well that they would still be in with a shot of qualifying for the Europa League with just 5 games remaining. They had a poor spell towards the middle of the season but have recovered well and are back to winning ways, just 2 points behind Arsenal. Regardless of whether they do qualify, for a team with the smallest playing budget in the league, to be pushing for such a high league position – despite having lost Robbie Brady and Tom Heaton to injury early in the season – is fantastic and I would argue Sean Dyche is the only person who can realistically compete with Guardiola for Manager of the Season honours.
They have been solid at the back all season and players like James Tarkowski and Nick Pope have deservedly received England call-ups during the season, but earlier in the season they did not necessarily look overly dangerous up front. Recently though, the decision to pair Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes has made them look much more dangerous up front. It reminds me of Stoke’s progression in the past from a defensively organised team under Tony Pulis to a team that could also attack well under Mark Hughes, but this has been done over the space of a season and with the same manager, which is very impressive.
The high league position will be huge for the Burnley budget and with such an impressive manager I think players will be interested in coming to Turf Moor next season. However I have faith that Dyche will be smart with his signings and continue to bring in players that complement the team. Could a return for Danny Ings or Charlie Austin be on the cards this summer? I wouldn’t bet against it.
17/4/18 – 23/4/18 predictions:
So the next week of football will be interesting for the table as some teams try to make up their game in hand while other teams end up playing twice. I have no idea how soon I will be able to write about any of these games (it will most likely not be until after the weekend), so rather than class it as a specific round of matches, I have decided to group all these matches together for my next set of predictions. Typical cup football getting in the way of league schedules, eh?
Brighton & Hove Albion v Tottenham Hotspur – Spurs win
AFC Bournemouth v Manchester United – United win
Burnley v Chelsea – Draw
Leicester City v Southampton – Leicester win
West Bromwich Albion v Liverpool – Liverpool win
Watford v Crystal Palace – Draw
Arsenal v West Ham United – Arsenal win
Stoke City v Burnley – Burnley win
Manchester City v Swansea City – Man City win
Everton v Newcastle United – Draw