And so, we have reached the end of the season. A season like no other, which saw empty grounds around the country for all but a few weeks of the season. A season that saw fans and players united against the greed of the “Big Six” owners. A season that Manchester City go from looking completely out of the title hunt to winning it by a country mile. A season that saw Arsenal’s 25-year streak of European qualification come to an end, despite the creation of a 3ʳᵈ European competition opening up an extra spot. A season that saw the return of Leeds United to the top flight in stunning fashion.
Congratulations to Manchester City for their 5ᵗʰ Premier League title in 10 years. They will be joined in the Champions League next season by Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea, while Leicester must suffer the disappointment of just missing out on the top competition for the second year running and must settle for a place in the Europa League alongside West Ham, while Spurs must settle for a place in the new Europa Conference League.
At the other end of the table, Sheffield United bid farewell to the top flight as they finished bottom of the table, while West Brom and Fulham make an immediate return to the Championship. They will be replaced by Norwich and Watford, who are both making immediate returns after relegation last season, and they will be joined by the winner of Saturday’s playoff final between Brentford (who have the chance of making it into the top flight for the first time since the 1940s) and Swansea.
And your winners!
Golden Boot: Harry Kane (Tottenham) – 23 goals
Playmaker of the Season: Harry Kane (Tottenham) – 14 assists
Golden Glove: Ederson (Manchester City) – 19 clean sheets
A perfect end?
We’ve known for a few months now that legendary Manchester City forward Sergio Agüero would be leaving at the end of the season, but who could have predicted how things would pan out in his final Premier League game. The Argentine came off the bench with 25 minutes remaining and took just 6 minutes to find the back of the net after Fernandinho won the ball back deep in the Everton half. But that wasn’t enough to make this special day perfect, and just 5 minutes later, he scored again, securing a 4-0 victory in front of a returning home crowd, but in the process, setting a new record of 184 Premier League goals scored for 1 club, beating Wayne Rooney’s Manchester United tally of 183.
Having scored that famous goal in the final minute of injury time against QPR to win the Premier League over Manchester United in his first season at the Etihad, he was always going to go down in Manchester City history, but over the years he has become such a key part in the rise of Manchester City to a global superpower, while he leaves the Premier League with the best minutes per goal figure (108) of any player with a minimum 50 Premier League goals.
In terms of bowing out of the Premier League, it was a almost perfect ending. But can things still get better? The one thing that has eluded Agüero and City this last 10 years is winning the Champions League. On Saturday, they face Chelsea in the Champions League final. Whether he starts or not, how fitting would it be to see Agüero score the winning goal in the final, securing his and the club’s first Champions League title before riding off into the sunset? As a United fan, any City success hurts, but it would be hard to deny such a legendary player such a perfect ending.
A crucial moment
Agüero isn’t the only person calling time on their Premier League career this month, and the most notable is probably Roy Hodgson, who announced a few weeks back that he would be stepping down as manager of Crystal Palace at the end of the season. The oldest person to have managed in the Premier League, Hodgson did not officially retire, but has said that he is stepping back from football for a time. He has had a long and varied career, having managed 16 different teams in 8 countries, with notable achievements including:
- Guiding Switzerland (who had not qualified for a major tournament since the 1960s) to the last 16 of the 1994 World Cup and qualification for Euro 1996
- Guiding Finland to their highest-ever FIFA ranking of 33ʳᵈ place
- Fulham’s Europa League campaign that began in the third qualifying round and went all the way to the final—their first major European final—where they went to extra time and were minutes away from taking Atlético Madrid to penalties
Of course, as well as the good, there has been the bad, with a move to Liverpool not working out and resulting in him leaving after just 6 months, while his time as England manager is not looked back at fondly—despite a strong start which saw them become defensively solid and rise to 3ʳᵈ in the FIFA World Rankings—as the team struggled to hit the highs that their personnel suggested they should, with dull performances, finishing bottom of their group with 2 losses and a draw at the 2014 World Cup, and dropping to 20ᵗʰ in the FIFA World Rankings.
Looking back, it is clear that Hodgson was at his best with smaller teams, who he could train into solid organised units that were hard to break down defensively, allowing them to pick up points against stronger teams by frustrating them and holding on for draws or catching them on the break or at a set piece for unlikely victories. And this has all been on show when you look at Palace’s place in the league tables. Though their position has fluctuate, they have always been in a secure position with a considerable points advantage over those relegated.
And now, with Hodgson stepping down, Crystal Palace find themselves in a crucial position. First of all, the wrong manager could easily turn things around in a heartbeat. While they have anew young star in Eberechi Eze, its just a matter of time before more attractive clubs come after him and their star of the last 10 years Wilfried Zaha, while the squad is full of players who are getting on in age, and it will be hard to replace their consistency and experience, made even worse by the sheer number of influential players who are out of contract this summer, including Christian Benteke, who has had something of a revival this season. This is a key moment for Crystal Palace, which could define their next couple of seasons. Don’t take your eyes off the situation as it unfolds.
On the move
It’s never an easy situation when you get relegated to the Championship. The Championship is full of teams desperate to jump up to the next level so there’s no easy match, just like in the Premier League. But it can often be harder than that as you lose some of your top players, who impressed enough in losing efforts to stand out and attract the attention of other teams in the Premier League and other top flight leagues. So who could be on the move this summer?
Well first of all, half the Fulham squad this season were loanees, including Alphonse Areola (Paris Saint-Germain), Joachim Andersen (Lyon), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea) and Ademola Lookman (RB Leipzig). While they may not be required by their parent club, it is hard to imagine that they will be loaned out to the Championship, and it is more likely that these players are allowed to sign for (or be loaned to) other Premier League clubs or other top flight leagues. A defender with a year of Premier League experience will be very attractive for mid-to-lower-table clubs looking to shore up their defence, and while Loftus-Cheek and Lookman had ups and downs this campaign, they certainly feel like the kind of players that teams will be looking to bring in to help secure Premier League safety.
As for Sheffield United, I can’t help feel that there were no true standouts in what was truly an awful season, but someone like John Egan could again look attractive for a team who wants to bring in a defender with top flight experience.
Meanwhile at West Brom, vice-captain Kyle Bartley could be another potential pick-up in the same vein as Egan and Andersen, but the true shining star was Matheus Pereira, who had a strong season, scoring 11 goals in 33 league games. As if that scoring record (ore than double that of his closest teammate, and almost a third of the club’s league goals this season) wasn’t enough, he was also top within the team for assists (6), with his dead balls a nightmare to defend. I will be shocked if the Brazilian remains at the club next season as he would be a great addition for any team expected to be fighting in the middle of the table or below, and I can’t help feel that a team like Aston Villa could come calling as Jack Grealish’s injury highlighted their lack of creative options.
Team of the Month
It’s not been a great season for Liverpool, with the loss of Virgil van Dijk just the tip of the iceberg as they suffered an injury crisis especially at the back, going through millions of different centreback combinations. And yet a strong end to the season saw them creep into the top 3, only 5 points behind Manchester United.
The team went perfect in May with a 100% winning record, winning 2-0 against Southampton before a 2-4 victory at Old Trafford, a last-gasp 1-2 victory at West Brom, a 0-3 win at Burnley and a 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace to secure a Champions League spot at the end of the season.
The strikers got scoring again and the defence got settled, and once again Liverpool looked like a top Premier League team. Expect them to be back in the title hunt next season.