So April was a quiet month for the Premier League, eh?
Ha! If only.
While the league came under attack from the supposed Big 6’s attempts to get more money for their owners – an event which backfired tremendously for everyone involved – the league season continued with some more thrilling matches. Manchester City may have lost to Leeds during the month, but with rivals Manchester United also dropping points to the same opposition at the end of the month, the Sky Blues find the league title within reach, with them likely to claim the title in their next match at time of writing. At the other end of the table, Sheffield United were officially confirmed as the first team to be relegated from the league, on the same day that Norwich were confirmed as the first team to secure promotion to the Premier League.
The race is on!
The race for the Golden Boot: Harry Kane (Tottenham) – 21 goals; Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) – 20 goals; Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United) – 16 goals
The race for Playmaker of the Season: Harry Kane (Tottenham) – 13 assists; Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) & Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United) – 11 assists; Jack Grealish (Aston Villa) – 10 assists
The race for the Golden Glove: Ederson (Manchester City) – 17 clean sheets; Édouard Mendy (Chelsea) – 15 clean sheets; Emiliano Martínez (Aston Villa)– 14 clean sheets
A step too far
On 18ᵗʰ April, the Premier League came under attack as the “Big 6” (Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur) announced that they were part of a group of 12 clubs (along with AC Milan, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Juventus and Real Madrid) who had agreed to form a new breakaway midweek league, the European Super League, rather than continue with the planned UEFA competitions that are in place. It was very clear that this was a move to make the rich clubs richer while the poor clubs were left out.
The timing couldn’t have been worse. Not only did it come completely out of the blue, with players and managers as shocked as fans and equally against the decision, but it came on the same day that Arsenal were held to a 1-1 draw by a Fulham side who will potentially be playing in the Championship next season. In fact, if we looked at the matches on that day or 2 days either side, there were 7 matches between a member of the Big 6 and one of the lowly teams not welcome with the big boys, resulting in just 3 wins for the Big 6 and 4 draws. Of course, within days all the teams had pulled out and were forced to make grovelling apologies.
The Premier League is the best league in the world, not because of its officiating (clearly), but because each team has a legitimate chance to beat any of the other 19 on their day, whereas the Bundesliga has been won by Bayern Munich for the last 8 (soon to be 9) seasons and La Liga has had the same top 3 (in varied order) for the last 9 seasons. The fact that managers and players unequivocally came out against the ESL shows just how loved the Premier League is.
The only people who seem to have been on board with the decision were the fat cats owning each club. And this is no surprise. As football has become more and more of a business, we have seen more clubs just become the shadow of their former selves as they just become a way of adding another 0 to the owner’s personal wealth. Hopefully, this show of solidarity from fans and club personnel alike will be a sign to the fat cats that they can’t have their own way, and hopefully lead us to a time when clubs are owned by those who care…
One giant story that went almost under the radar due to the ESL announcement was the removal of José Mourinho from his role as Spurs manager. The sacking came 2 days after Spurs came from behind to draw at Everton, but less than a week before they would face Manchester city in the Carabao Cup final. Former player Ryan Mason – who was forced to retire early due to a serious head injury – was moved from his role with the Academy into the interim head coach role until the end of the season, becoming the youngest manager in Premier League history, at 29 years old.
But beyond that, who will get the job? Mason is a Spurs man through and through, but it doesn’t sound like he is in contention due to this lack of experience, though it would be interesting to see if this would change if he has a super successful end to the season.
Rafa Benitez would be an ideal choice and is currently available, but I can’t see him moving to Spurs given how reluctant Daniel Levy is to get the chequebook out. Rafa was asked to work miracles with no financial support at Newcastle, and I can’t see him wanting to go into a situation where he is expected to compete against United, City, Liverpool and Chelsea on the pitch but not in the transfer market.
The odds on Antonio Conte taking over have dropped significantly over the last week, and he would be an attractive option, with Premier League experience and experience of teams with high expectations. But would Conte consider a move from perennial title chasers Inter Milan to a Spurs team who are probably pushing for top 3 at best an attractive move?
Eddie Howe is a young English manager who won plenty of plaudits during his time at Bournemouth, playing attractive attacking football. However deficiencies in defence eventually cost him and he has been without a club since, which does raise some flags. He remains the favourite to take over at Celtic, and a couple of strong seasons there could put him in good standing next time around, but not right now.
Sticking with young English managers and Scott Parker may be facing relegation with Fulham, but the team s unrecognisable now to the mess they were at the start of the season. He is a smart manager with expectations of his players, but again probably needs some more experience before a move to a big club.
Ralph Hasenhüttl has impressed on the whole at Southampton and it seems a matter of time before he gets a more prestigious appointment, but for a manager with only 2 appointments of note (Southampton and RB Leipzig) who has never managed a winning percentage of 50% or above, a move to a team like Spurs may be to big of a jump.
Brendan Rodgers and Nuno Espírito Santo are probably the most attractive managers in the Premier League right now, but this season has maybe shown a reliance on a couple of star players, with Wolves struggling following he sale of Diogo Jota and injuries to Raúl Jiménez and Pedro Neto, while Leicester have also struggled with key players missing.
And finally to a subject that seems to come up far too often: player safety surrounding head injuries. This time we journey back to the start of the month, as Leeds hosted Sheffield United. Sheffield right back George Baldock suffered a head injury and even from the television footage, it was clear that he appeared to be suffering concussion symptoms. Yet after the quickest of trials at the side of the pitch, Baldock was allowed to play on, only to go down again moments later and finally be removed from the match.
I may not be a medical expert but it was clear to me that Baldock was in no fit state to continue after the original incident. By being allowed to play on, Baldock was put at serious risk. So much work is being done in sports like rugby and the NFL to combat head injuries and protect players, yet football—a sport in which you can legally use your head to play the ball—once again seems far behind.
These players may be getting paid substantial sums to play in the Premier League, but their safety and wellbeing is being put at risk, and I worry that if something doesn’t change soon, it will take a serious and life-changing incident for the league begin caring about concussions and head injuries.
Team of the Month
This was very much a two horse race this month, with only Manchester United and West Ham managing 3 wins in the league this month. While West Ham’s 3 wins were probably against a stronger set of opponents, United’s win at Spurs highlighted their turnaround from the mauling they received earlier this season, and they also finished the month with a slightly higher number of points due to a draw at Leeds versus a loss at Newcastle, while they also had to do this around their Europa League campaign, which saw both legs of the quarterfinal against Granada and the 6-2 victory in the first leg of the semifinal against Roma.