SO the last domestic football of the season has been completed and we now know the full list of 20 teams that will be playing Premier League football next season, including first-timers Brighton and Huddersfield.
But before looking ahead, it’s a final chance to look back at 2016/17.
PREMIER LEAGUE WEEKLY has rated every team’s season and picked out a match that defined the campaign. It’s being done over two days and today everyone from Arsenal to Manchester City is under the spotlight.
ARSENAL – 5th; 75pts
Star man: Alexis Sanchez
SO, finally after 20 years Arsenal will not be playing Champions League football next season. A disastrous run of seven points from eight games between January and April did the damage and it felt like Arsene Wenger’s era was coming to an end as the players collectively disappeared.
Winning the FA Cup can’t paper over the league disappointment, but it was their best display of the season and there is no better feeling than winning a trophy. Wenger signed a two-year contract extension on the back of it, but only time will tell if that was the right thing for the club.
Crystal Palace 3 Arsenal 0 (April 10): Wenger can have suffered few worse nights as Arsenal manager than this one in South London. His side were out-played, out-muscled and outmanoeuvred by Palace, who deserved their commanding win. The Gunners only missed out on the top four by one point in the end but this defeat left them far too much do before their late winning run.
BOURNEMOUTH – 9th; 46pts
Star man: Josh King
AN excellent second season in the top flight for Bournemouth and Eddie Howe as few would have predicted a top-half finish. They again conceded a lot of goals but their football was proactive and entertaining and had its rewards.
No-one outside of the top seven scored more than their 55 goals and it was all achieved with a large core of English players who have come up through the divisions, so bravo for that.
Bournemouth 4 Liverpool 3 (December 4): After 65 minutes of this match, Liverpool were 3-1 up and looked like they could score at will against Bournemouth’s flimsy defence. But the Cherries staged one of the great Premier League comebacks, capped off by an injury time winner from on-loan defender Nathan Ake to record a special victory. Sure, their defence isn’t the best, but Howe has created a side that plays in the right manner and it was rewarded here.
BURNLEY – 16th; 40pts
Star man: Michael Keane
IT has to be considered a huge success for Burnley to have avoided relegation, given their budget and the fact that the two other promoted sides did go down. They were outstanding at Turf Moor with ten wins, where they had a knack of beating the teams in and around them and they were superbly led by manager Sean Dyche. It will be very difficult to build upon or better this effort next season.
Burnley 4 Sunderland 1 (December 31): The Clarets knew the importance of a home double-header against Middlesbrough and Sunderland. They squeezed out Boro on Boxing Day before dispatching David Moyes’ men with ease on New Year’s Eve thanks to a hat-trick from Andre Gray. It gave them a nine-point cushion over the bottom three which they could defend in the New Year, and underlined their brilliant home form as the cause for survival.
CHELSEA – 1st , CHAMPIONS; 93pts
Star man: N’Golo Kante
WHAT a first season in England for manager Antonio Conte. The Italian delivered the Premier League title back to Stamford Bridge and reunited the club after the fall-out from Jose Mourinho’s sacking. Eden Hazard and Diego Costa were back on form up front and N’Golo Kante was an inspired signing in midfield as he collected the PFA Player of the Year and Footballer of the Year awards.
30 wins from 38 games was testament to their ruthlessness and ability not to drop points against the lesser sides. Missing out on the double was a slight disappointment, but it won’t take away from the glory of winning the title.
Chelsea 4 Manchester United 0 (October 23): This was a crucial afternoon in so many ways. It was Mourinho’s first return since his sacking the previous December and the first big test for Chelsea since they had switched to a three-man defence. In the circumstances, things could not have gone any better. They were one up inside 30 seconds and sauntered to a commanding win, which achieved closure on one era and gave confidence to everyone at the club about the new one.
CRYSTAL PALACE – 14th; 41pts
Star man: Wilfried Zaha
SAM ALLARDYCE was parachuted in to do he does best and keep a team up, and it was mission accomplished with one match to spare, before the disgraced former England manager decided to step away.
However, with the players at his and predecessor Alan Pardew’s disposal, there is no way the Eagles should have spent so much of the campaign in deep trouble. It was also remarkable that given its reputation, Selhurst Park witnessed 11 home defeats during the season.
Chelsea 1 Crystal Palace 2 (April 1): Palace were still only four points above the drop zone when they went to Stamford Bridge and with a perilous fixture list on the cards. But goals from Wilfried Zaha and Christian Benteke delivered a spectacular win – the only defeat Chelsea suffered all season to a team outside the top six. The Eagles did not look like they would go down after this and no wonder with the X-Factor of someone like Zaha in the side.
EVERTON – 7th; 61 pts
Star man: Romelu Lukaku
MUCH better from Everton after they had fallen away badly in Roberto Martinez’s last season. Ronald Koeman brought a dose of honesty back to Goodison and restored the venue as a tough place to go.
The Dutchman doesn’t suffer fools and he looks a good fit for the blue half of Merseyside, but it will take a lot of money or some very astute signings, or both, to finish any higher next season.
Liverpool 3 Everton 1 (April 1): It feels churlish to go on a negative but this match summed up the glass ceiling Everton face. They went to Anfield on the back of just one defeat in their previous 12 league games, but they were well beaten by their neighbours and star players Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley were awful. They have not beaten Liverpool for seven years and haven’t won at Anfield for 18, so they can’t threaten to break into the top six until they break out of this damaging spiral.
HULL – 18th; 34pts
Star man: Andy Robertson
SO, the relegation certainties went down. Big deal? If only, it was that simple. Hull were a mess even before Steve Bruce walked away last July, but their lack of summer recruitment and decision to appoint Mike Phelan backfired badly.
Marco Silva came in and the Portuguese nearly fashioned a remarkable escape with a motley bunch of players but succumbed at the end. It could be a very long time before we next see the Tigers in the Premier League.
Hull 0 Sunderland 2 (May 6): A strong sense of déjà vu here. Two years ago, a home defeat to already relegated Burnley effectively sent Hull down. And this time, it was the nightmare of a home loss to Sunderland that did the damage. All the good work done in the previous few months by Silva was undone in 90 minutes as the Tigers slipped back to the Championship at the first time of asking.
LEICESTER – 12th; 44pts
Star man: Kasper Schmeichel
WE were not expecting Leicester to repeat their unbelievable Premier League success. We were not expecting them to finish in or even challenge for the top four. But we expected better than this, when only a strong final third of the season avoided the ignominy of potential relegation.
There was a good showing in the Champions League with a place in the quarter-finals, but the manner in which things went so badly wrong under Claudio Ranieri was a sad way for a great story to finish.
Hull 2 Leicester 1 (August 13): The tone was set in the season’s very first game as Leicester became the first Champions to lose on the opening day for 27 years. Jamie Vardy missed a hat-trick of chances, the defence suddenly looked vulnerable, Riyad Mahrez was invisible and N’Golo Kante was badly missed. It wasn’t until Ranieri’s departure in late February that those problems were corrected.
LIVERPOOL – 4th; 76pts
Star man: Sadio Mane
FOR periods during the first half of the season, it felt like Liverpool could challenge for the Premier League. When they were on song, their football was thrilling to watch and they took points off all the biggest teams.
But a weak defence, goalkeeping difficulties and a small squad all eventually took their toll, while there were two poor exits from the cup competitions. In the end, victory on the final day against Middlesbrough secured the Champions League spot they had targeted for nine months.
Stoke 1 Liverpool 2 (April 8):
BY this stage of the season, Liverpool were wobbling in their pursuit of the top four. A starting line-up without Mane, Adam Lallana, Jordan Henderson, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho was vulnerable and they only had 17-year-old Ben Woodburn up front. They were all over the place in the first half and were losing 1-0. Firmino and Coutinho could barely manage 45 minutes but they were summoned at half time and scored the goals that rescued the win. It felt big at the time and it just kept the gap between the Reds and the challengers below them.
MANCHESTER CITY – 3rd; 78pts
Star man: David Silva
AS owner Khaldoon Al-Mubarak rightly said, Manchester City and manager Pep Guardiola should not be celebrating coming third, which was only rubberstamped after a strong finish. City began brilliantly with ten wins in all competitions before Brendan Rodgers and Celtic showed the blueprint of how to stop them.
There were frustrating cup exits and Guardiola’s team portrayed the same flaws that existed under Manuel Pellegrini, namely of great football being undermined by bad defending. The decision to replace Joe Hart with Claudio Bravo in goal was unnecessary and an unmitigated disaster, and one which threatened to undermine Guardiola’s credibility as one of football’s so-called ‘super coaches’.
Manchester City 1 Chelsea 3 (December 3): A season-defining game if ever there was one. City displayed the three traits that were there for all the season. They created a hatful of chances but missed all but one of them, including Kevin De Bruyne hitting the bar when it was harder to miss to make it 2-0. They then conceded three goals from little more than three attacks to lose the game. To add insult to injury, Fernandinho and Sergio Aguero were both sent off late on as the wheels fell off any perceived title challenge.
Come back to sundaypost.com tomorrow for part two.
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