Hey guys, sorry for the delay in getting back to this series. It took me a little longer than I expected to catch up on life after my trip away so by the time I had caught up the final round of games was upon us.
So the Premier League is now over for another season. Manchester City are the Champions of England and have broken most records on the way to their title. Meanwhile West Brom’s valiant efforts under caretaker manager Darren Moore were not enough to overcome the odds and they were relegated along with Stoke and Swansea (even more galling as Cardiff have been promoted). Chelsea’s loss at Newcastle on the final day means that they will be playing in the Europa League next season along with Arsenal and Burnley, while Manchester United, Spurs (who waved goodbye to Wembley with a goal-fest against Leicester) and Liverpool will be joining City in the Champions League next season.
What season City had. They ended up proving my prediction that their defence would lose them the league completely wrong, not only winning by 19 points, but also facing the fewest shots over a season since Opta records began (236). Their possession (71.9%), total passes (28,242) and pass accuracy (89%) were all records since Opta records began, as was their 15.9% shot conversion rate, which helped them towards a league-record 106 goals in a season. Their 32 wins and 4 draws saw them become the first team in the history of the league to reach 100 points, 10 more than the famed Arsenal “Invincibles” of 2003/4! This is a fantastic achievement and while I would expect their rivals to improve and get closer to them next season, it is hard to imagine this team not defending their title in 2018/19.
Along with all these records they broke, they also held the top 4 spots on the list of assists this season, with Kevin De Bruyne’s last minute assist for Gabriel Jesus earning him the top spot with 16, one ahead of Leroy Sané and 5 ahead of Raheem Sterling and David Silva.
In fact, pretty much the only record City didn’t break this season was that of most goals for a player in a 38-game season. That went to Golden Boot winner Mohamed Salah, whose opener against Brighton put him on 32 goals for the season, not only 2 goals ahead of Harry Kane’s impressive haul of 30 goals, but also enough to break Shearer, Ronaldo and Suarez’s record of 31 goals. Unlike City’s dominance, I doubt that Salah will be able to live up to these heights next year (though I would not be surprised with him making it into the 20s), but the guy has been on fire this season and rightfully earned his spot in the record books. It will be interesting to see if Liverpool can hold off attention from the more attractive clubs like Man City, Barcelona and Real Madrid, especially if he fires the Reds to Champions League glory.
Down but not out
With the season coming to an end, teams will now begin to turn their eyes to the future and start considering who they will sign for the coming season. While Stoke, Swansea and West Brom go down to the Championship, there are some players who I am sure will be leaving, either for another Premiership team or a different league. Stoke especially have a number of Premiership quality players who I will likely be finding a new club in the coming months:
Having spent time at Bayern Munich and Inter in the past, there is no way Xherdan Shaqiri will follow Stoke to the Championship. The Swiss international was one of Stoke’s stars in an awful season and topped the stats for goals (8) and assists (7) in the league this season. Only Joe Allen and Jack Butland played more minutes for Stoke than him in the league in 2017/18. With Marko Arnautovic leaving for West Ham and Jesé not working out as hoped, Shaqiri was not left with much help up front but still looked impressive during a doomed campaign. He may decide to move back to the continent, but if he does choose to remain in the Premier League, I could see him working well as a rotational player in the Spurs attack. They need more depth and more players who can chip in with goals and Shaqiri can certainly provide that, whilst also allowing the men up front to stay fresh throughout the season.
As mentioned above, Joe Allen’s 3,142 minutes in the league for Stoke was bested only by Jack Butland this season. He was also second to Shaqiri for assists (5) while also scoring 2 league goals. Though the numbers may not be anything special, he is a much more talented player than these stats suggest. The “Welsh Xavi” played 189 more passes than anyone else in a Stoke shirt and his 1,977 touches was almost 200 more than the next on the list for Stoke. He may not be the flair player that top teams will be looking for, but with 7 years of Premier League experience under his belt – including 4 at Liverpool – he will be an attractive prospect to a team towards the middle of the table hoping to push for Europe. With it announced that Scott Arfield will be leaving Burnley for Rangers, I think that Burnley are a potential landing spot for Allen, as they will want to get some players in to help them live up to this season’s exploits and also hold their own in the Europa League.
Jack Butland played more minutes than any Stoke player in the league this season and finished the season with the most saves of any keeper (144) despite Stoke having the joint worst number of goals conceded. A potential member of Gareth Southgate’s World Cup squad, there is no way that he will be playing Championship football next season. He will want to maximise his chance of playing for England by signing for the best team he can, and as such I can see Liverpool as an attractive option, or Arsenal if they decide to move on from Petr Cech. Both squads have had somewhat questionable defences over recent years but will still look more secure than what he has had in front of him at Stoke, while both teams will appreciate a young, talented shot stopper who is English-qualified but due to relegation can probably come at a discounted price.
With so many influential players likely to leave Stoke, it will be a difficult job for whoever is in charge next season to bring them straight back into the top flight.
What a great end to the season for Newcastle! At one point earlier in the season they looked at real risk of relegation, but pulled themselves up the table in 2018 and despite a string of losses towards the end of the season finished on a high with a dominant 3-0 victory over Chelsea to finish 10th. The Premier League needs a Newcastle side that is competing in the top half of the table, but that has been a rarity in recent seasons. But what do they need to do to give themselves the best chance of this?
- Keep hold of Rafa – Rafael Benitez is a former Champions League winner and has arguably worked wonders with the side he has this season. A manager of his quality should not have been relegated to the Championship but such was his willingness to take on the role at Newcastle in 2016 despite their precarious position, and his willingness to see the Magpies back into the Premier League at the first opportunity, he has the good graces of the fans. The worry now will be losing him. He has been frequently frustrated by the lack of support financially in the transfer market and many will be worried that he may look for greener pastures, especially with an attractive position available at Arsenal and possibly a spot at Chelsea too. With Rafa at the helm, I feel that this Newcastle side can do better than expected, but I do worry for them should he leave.
- Make the loans permanent – Newcastle’s results improved in 2018 following the arrivals of Kenedy and Martin Dubravka on loan. These 2 players made such a huge impression on matches the improvement in performance was clear to see. If Newcastle want to compete in the right parts of the league, they need to be getting players like this on the books as permanent deals rather than as short-term loans, otherwise the squad will struggle to get the consistency over the seasons.
- Get a reliable striker – Especially in the first half of the season, Newcastle struggled with goals. Though they improved as they went through 2018, only Burnley (36) scored less goals out of the top 14 than Newcastle’s 39. Ayoze Perez was their top scorer with a “whopping” 8 goals, whereas fellow strikers Dwight Gayle and Joselu only managed 6 and 4 goals respectively. When your centre back is 4th on the list of goals scored with 3, you know there’s a problem! Newcastle desperately need a player who can score 12-15 goals per season if they want to regularly challenge in the top half of the table. Jay Rodriguez may not have head the best couple of seasons since his injury issues, but 7 goals in a struggling West Brom team suggested he could be getting back to his best and a better supporting cast. Southampton may have only just avoided relegation this season but they will be at risk next year if they don’t substantially improve after the season. Charlie Austin missed a number of matches through injury and yet still ended up as their top scorer with 7 goals. He’s a quality striker but has never quite managed to hold down a starting spot at Southampton on a regular basis, so I would not be surprised to see him move on to a team that can guarantee him a starting spot while also providing him the players around him to provide him with the opportunities. But of course for this, Newcastle will need to likely put their hand in their pocket and spend a bit of money.
And each of these ends up coming back to the same point: Newcastle needs to spend money to get the players in that Rafa Benitez wants. I have genuinely felt sorry for Newcastle fans in recent years when prospective takeovers have fallen through. If Mike Ashley will continue to refuse to spend money then he needs to find a buyer soon!
Thanks to everyone who has been reading this series over the past year. I do not know if I will do exactly the same next year but writing these has really helped me get back into the Premier League after a couple of years of not really caring, so I’m sure there will be something. Watch this space guys!