IT’S the second half of PREMIER LEAGUE WEEKLY’s review of the season.
There are three trophies, a glorious near miss and two relegations on the agenda as we race from Manchester United all the way through to West Ham.
MANCHESTER UNITED – 6th; 69pts
Star man: Antonio Valencia
JOSE MOURINHO’s first season at Manchester United must be considered a success after winning the League Cup and the Europa League (sorry, and the Community Shield!). The Champions League entry for winning in Stockholm was the big prize though, and was the reward for slogging through 14 matches on a Thursday night.
After a good August, league form thereafter was stodgy and rarely convincing. The football wasn’t too much better than the stuff seen under Louis van Gaal and the side still needs plenty of work. Mourinho remains a serial winner and this is a good start, but he is still a long way off creating a true ‘Manchester United’ team.
Manchester United 0 Burnley 0 (October 29): Quite possibly, the most one-sided match I have ever attended. United dominated from first whistle to last, had 37 shots, 19 corners and 72% of the possession, but still failed to score. It was an astonishing lack of ruthlessness. It was 3pm on a Saturday afternoon, so the Europa League could not be used as an excuse, but it was to become a familiar pattern. Stoke, West Ham, Hull, Bournemouth, West Brom and Swansea all returned home from Old Trafford this season with a share of the spoils.
MIDDLESBROUGH – 19th
Star man: Ben Gibson
OH, Middlesbrough. You wait seven years to return to the Premier League and then you produce a season like this. Just five wins and only 27 goals means Boro are returning to the Championship with so many regrets. The biggest of those is that they did not leave a mark.
There was no single memorable victory, the football was forgettable and the signings were uninspired. Manager Aitor Karanka should have been sacked sooner or not at all, and poor Steve Agnew looked like an enthusiastic supply teacher rather than a galvanising force to pull off a dramatic escape act.
Middlesbrough 0 Watford 1 (October 16): Boro had made a reasonable start upon their return to the top flight, but this was an ominous warning of things to come. Matches like this must be won to have a chance of staying up. Instead, the safety-first approach of Karanka and a fine strike by Jose Holebas conspired to send Boro to defeat and was the start of a slow death stroll to relegation.
SOUTHAMPTON – 8th; 46pts
Star man: Virgil van Dijk
THE league position would suggest it was a fine season for Southampton, but they accrued ten fewer points than when they were eighth three years ago, perhaps underlining a truer reflection of their performance. The Saints nearly won the League Cup, losing in the final to Manchester United. And they did beat Inter Milan in the Europa League, but they still failed to progress out of their group.
The quiet persona of Claude Puel made the Frenchman seem underwhelming after the energy of Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman’s stature and that perhaps reflects the feeling about their campaign.
Southampton 1 Sunderland 1 (August 27): IT was still early in the season but this was a sign of things to come. The Saints needed a late equaliser from Jay Rodriguez to rescue a point after toiling to break down stubborn opponents. It was a problem they encountered for much of the season at St Mary’s where they averaged less than a goal per game, with only the bottom two winning fewer matches at home.
STOKE – 13th; 44pts
Star man: Joe Allen
SURELY no Premier League club has had quite as forgettable a season as Stoke. They finished lower mid-table, failed to beat any team higher than eighth in the league and won one cup match against a League Two side. And then £12 million striker Saido Berahino failed to score after arriving in January. After three top-half finishes, this was a backwards step for Mark Hughes and he now needs to revive a squad that was starting to creak at the edges.
Stoke 1 Manchester United 1 (Jan 21): Stoke were seconds away from recording what would have been their best win of the season when Wayne Rooney stepped up in the 94th minute to curl in a brilliant free-kick, rescue a point, score a record 250th goal for Manchester United and dominate the headlines. It was that sort of season for the Potters – as they managed to stay out of the limelight for nearly the whole campaign.
SUNDERLAND – 20th; 24pts
Star man: Jermain Defoe
A disastrous campaign ended with a deserved relegation. After four seasons of surviving in the final week, this time they were down with three weeks to spare. And it was a personal horror show for manager David Moyes.
His signings were either terrible or conservative or both, the football was negative, so was his body language and he ended up embroiled in an unsightly sexism row. His decision to resign without taking any money was probably his shrewdest of the season.
Jordan Pickford was good in goal and so was Jermain Defoe up front, but everyone in between had a year to forget.
Sunderland 1 Stoke 3 (January 14): SAFETY felt within Sunderland’s capabilities when the Potters arrived on Wearside. But it turned into one of those nightmarish afternoons that seems to have become synonymous with the Stadium of Light down the years. Stoke were three up just past the half-hour mark and cruising to three points and it wasn’t long before another 40,00-plus crowd was dispersing early. The Black Cats did not win another home game after this. It took Stoke their remaining eight away trips to match the three goals they plundered here.
SWANSEA – 15th; 41pts
Star man: Gylfi Sigurdsson
THIS was the story of three managers and one dramatic esacpe. Francesco Guidolin didn’t look like he would last long – he managed seven games, Bob Bradley was almost doomed from the start and Paul Clement had to perform the rescue act.
13 points from the final five games did the trick as the Swans guaranteed themselves a seventh straight year of Premier League football. Clement’s plan now is to keep his star men and ensure there is no flirtation with relegation again.
Liverpool 2 Swansea 3 (January 21): Hands up who predicted this result! Not me – I confidently went for a 3-0 home win! But why not? The Swans were bottom at the time and conceding goals for fun and had lost 4-0 at home to Arsenal the week before. But Clement found the formula that day which would eventually keep them up. Fernando Llorente scored twice and Gylfi Sigurdsson grabbed the winner, and those two players made the difference on so many occasions during the run-in.
TOTTENHAM – 2nd; 86pts
Star man: Harry Kane
TOTTENHAM enjoyed their finest league campaign since they won the double in 1961, with their best team of the last half century. Harry Kane won the Golden Boot for the second season running, Dele Alli was even better than last year, and the other young players kicked on again. They were excellent to watch and had a terrific finish of 12 wins from their final 13 games.
They also said goodbye to White Hart Lane in the right manner with an unbeaten home campaign of 59 points from 19 home games. But still, this wouldn’t be Spurs without a hitch. All these impressive feats but Chelsea won the title and knocked them out of the FA Cup, which was then won by Arsenal.
West Ham 1 Tottenham 0 (May 5): Of all the places and all the teams Tottenham could have picked for their title challenge to unravel, few would have wanted it to be away at West Ham. The Hammers produced a rousing atmosphere to derail their bitter rivals’ ambitions and secure a famous victory. Spurs have now been involved in two title races and come up short both times. That means the pressure will only increase next time, and this set of players are yet to show they can handle it.
WATFORD – 17th; 40pts
Star man: Etienne Capoue
PREMIER LEAGUE survival was assured, so it was job done in that regard. Walter Mazzarri did what was asked of him but no more and his lack of English created a disconnect with the fans, who are not upset to see him go. Apart from Troy Deeney and Heurelho Gomes, the Hornets have a group of mercenary players who have no connection to the club or the area. The Pozzo family like to do things differently and it has worked for two seasons, but here’s a warning from Spain. Granada, the club they used to own until last summer, has just finished bottom of La Liga in total disarray and with a large squad of players from all over the place. It wouldn’t be a surprise if that was to happen at Vicarage Road.
Watford 0 Manchester City 5 (May 21): THIS probably is a bit harsh considering Watford were already safe from relegation, but it was the image that was portrayed. City still needed a point to ensure their top four spot, but they let an insipid home side off lightly. They won 5-0 and it should have been ten. The manner of the defeat portrayed a side without spirit and emphasised the revolving door mentality that exists at the club.
WEST BROM – 10th; 45pts
Star man: Gareth McAuley
IT was job done for West Brom on February 25 when they struck the magic 40-point mark. That was the end of a winter spell where they accrued 30 points from 16 games and did the bulk of their work in ensuring their Premier League safety. After that, their form fell off a cliff with only five points from their final 12 games.
Tony Pulis maintained his record of avoiding relegation, but they should have finished higher. Throw in first round exits in both cup competitions and Baggies fans could be forgiven for feeling like they deserved more.
Leicester 1 West Brom 2 (November 6): The Baggies began this match in 17th place, but level on points with Hull in 18th and peering over their shoulders. Leicester had still not lost at home, but West Brom are happy to upset any party. Goals from James Morrison and Matt Phillips did the business as they jumped up seven places in the league. It was the start of a run which condensed the bulk of nine months’ work into three.
WEST HAM – 11th; 45pts
Star man: Michail Antonio
THE best news for West Ham is that the season is over and they finished in the relative comfort of mid-table as it could have been a whole lot worse. The transition from Upton Park to the Olympic Stadium was a traumatic one and the entire club seemed lost in their new environment.
Star man Dmitri Payet lost interest and went back to France in mid-season and they were hampered by some awful signings. If manager Slaven Bilic is around for the new campaign, he will pray for calmer waters to guide the side forward.
West Ham 2 Watford 4 (September 10): THIS was an easy one. If ever there was a 90 minutes to encapsulate a season, it was this one for the Hammers. On a lovely, sunny afternoon, everything was optimistic as the home team went two up after 33 minutes. Cue comic defending and slapstick goalkeeping and half an hour later, they were 4-2 down. Suddenly, the Olympic Stadium was awful, moving from Upton Park was a disaster and fans were fighting amongst themselves in the stands. Those problems persisted, but the players on the pitch did not prove to be a good enough distraction.
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