And with last Sunday’s 10 simultaneous games completed, another Premier League season has come to an end. This one featured a Manchester City team that was one of the most dominant teams in Premier League history running away with the title, **Liverpool and Tottenham surging past Arsenal and Chelsea**, tremendous overachieving from Burnley, tremendous underachieving by plenty of teams, and a relegation fight that went right down to the wire.
This week I’m taking a look back at the season that was, checking how my predictions went (spoiler alert: not great) and evaluating how each team got to where they ended up and how they should feel as the season ends.
First, a reminder on how I thought the table would look when the season ended:
- Manchester United
- Manchester City
- West Ham
- West Brom
- Crystal Palace
Let’s take a look at what actually happened.
1. Manchester City (100 points, Champions and qualified for the Champions League)
Man City clinched their third Premier League title in the last seven years almost a month ago on April 15th, when Manchester United somehow lost to West Brom at Old Trafford. City of course had a chance to win the title against United the game before, but that potential party was spoiled by Paul Pogba.
So perhaps City didn’t win the title how they may have wanted, but that doesn’t take anything away from how unbelievably impressive Pep Guardiola’s team have been this season.
My concern for City was that their defense simply wasn’t going to be good enough to win a title. Turns out, your opponent can’t score if they never have the ball. City averaged an astounding 71.6% possession over the course of the season. The next best was Tottenham at 62%. Despite playing Fabian Delph (a central midfielder with absolutely no chance of breaking into the City midfield) at left back for much of the season in the absence of Benjamin Mendy and often playing Kyle Walker as part of a back 3, City boasted the best defense in the League this season; They kept 18 clean sheets (only beaten by Manchester United’s 19) and conceded just 27 goals over the course of the 38 game season. While City have spent obscene amounts of cash on defenders over the last year, perhaps the most important player for them defensively was Ederson in goal. The young Brazilian keeper alleviated the constant anxiety caused by Claudio Bravo in goal last season and gave City a steady, reliable shot-stopper (or more often, quarterback) between the posts.
Of course, what really gained City attention this season was their deadly attack. It’s no surprise that they led the League by a wide margin in seemingly every offensive category. This is headlined by their breaking of the Premier League Record for goals in a season with 106, breaking the record of 103 previously held by Chelsea’s 2009/10 team. They scored the most goals from both inside (93) and outside (13) the box, and also took the most shots (665) and, along with that, hit the post the most of any team (23). They completed over 28,000 passes (~700 a game and over 4,000 more than Arsenal, who were second in passes) and also had the most corner kicks (284).
They had four different players score double-digit Premier League goals: Sergio Aguero (21), Raheem Sterling (18), Gabriel Jesus (13) and Leroy Sane (10). No other team had more than two (Chelsea, Leicester, Liverpool, Tottenham).
However, in my mind their most impressive statistical feat this season is having the four players with the most assists in the League: Kevin De Bruyne (16), Leroy Sane (15), David Silva (11), and Raheem Sterling (11).
A final remarkable statistic, City are the first team in Premier League history to reach 100 points in a season.
City players also collected no shortage of of awards. Leroy Sane was named Premier League Young Player of the Year (given to the best player who is 23 or younger when the season starts), ending a three year reign of Tottenham players winning the award (Harry Kane, Dele Alli twice). His double-digit goals and assists certainly made him a deserving winner (other nominees were Kane, Ederson, Marcus Rashford, teammate Sterling, and Ryan Sessegnon, the first non-Premier League player to ever be nominated).
The PFA (Pro Footballers Association) Team of the Year included five City players (Walker, Nicolas Otamendi, David Silva, De Bruyne and Aguero). EA Sports also included all five in their Premier League Team of the Season, in addition to Fernandinho.
In many other seasons, Kevin De Bruyne may have won Player of the Year. He was incredibly impressive throughout the season for City and has been transformed into a world class box-to-box central midfielder by Pep Guardiola. David Silva may have been a Player of the Year candidate had he not had to take a leave of absence due to his son, Mateo, being born severely premature (he missed nine games). However, it was not to be. While we’ll get to Mo Salah, the Player of the Year was not the only way in which the Egyptian snubbed Man City this season as he and Liverpool knocked them out in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, one of the few blemishes of the City season, along with being knocked out of the FA Cup by third-tier Wigan Athletic.
It may be crazy that the MVP of the League didn’t come from such an incredible team, but in a way it’s fitting. The way City played this season was all about being one collective unit, a unit that proved to be an absolutely unstoppable force.
A team that was often one of the most boring to watch over past years became must-see this season and certainly deserve everything they won this season.
As for the future, it will take something special from one of the other top teams (by which I probably mean an insane amount of spending over the summer) to catch this City team. If had to pick a favorite to win the League next year it’s not even a question I’d pick City.
2. Manchester United (81 points, qualified for the Champions League)
Second place to a historically great Man City team and making the final of the FA Cup should be thought of as a pretty successful season, right? It certainly doesn’t feel that way for Manchester United. Over the course of the season they’ve never been particularly convincing in their argument to be considered one of the best teams in England.
Their brightest spots this season for United were the emergence of Ashley Young as a competent left back (despite being a right-footed, aging winger), the play of Nemanja Matic in defensive midfield as cover for the often suspect United central defensive and the defensively disinclined Paul Pogba, and the emergence of Jesse Lingard (8 goals, 5 assists).
Romelu Lukaku had a solid first season in red, scoring 16 goals (the only United player in double-digits), but as he often does went stretches where he struggled to score. He did, however, finally score a goal against a top-6 opponent in United’s 2-1 win over Chelsea (which for a Chelsea-reject had to feel good; still kind of weird that Mourinho signed him after thinking he wasn’t good enough at Chelsea).
Signing Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal in January did not prove to be the fix United needed to catch Man City, as Sanchez scored just 2 goals in 12 appearances for United. I still don’t understand this transfer. I get that Sanchez wanted out of Arsenal and is a great player, but left-winger/strikers was literally the last thing United needed. They already had Anthony Martial (who scored 9 goals despite only starting 18 games) and Marcus Rashford, both of whom I feel have been underutilized by Jose Mourinho this season. Something will have to give here, there simply isn’t room for all of those guys on the team in the future.
Then there’s the puzzle that is Paul Pogba. His 10 assists led the team, and at times (such as against Man City) he looks like he’s worth every penny of the over $100 million that United paid for his service. However, throughout this season there were times Pogba was virtually invisible. At the end of two seasons, it’s still not clear that Jose Mourinho knows how he wants to use Pogba. He’s at his best when he’s allowed to roam more or less wherever he wants, but that’s not the kind of playing style that fits into Mourinho’s rigid tactical philosophy.
I don’t understand how a team that lost to both West Brom and Huddersfield only lost 7 games all season and ended up in second, but here we are.
I anticipate a lot of spending on defenders this summer for United, or at least that’s what would make sense. Who knows, maybe Mourinho will just keep throwing money at shiny objects like Sanchez.
This is a team with incredible talent but with no direction, and it’s hard to see them as the team destined to dethrone their cross town rivals.
A good enough season for the Red Devils, but one that ends with more questions than answers.
3. Tottenham Hotspur (77 Points, qualified for the Champions League)
It’s amazing how quickly St. Totteringham’s Day (whatever day of the year it was confirmed that Arsenal would finish above Tottenham) has gone from an annual tradition to long-forgotten in the space of just a couple years. Harry Kane continues to score goals for fun, well supported by Dele Alli, Christen Ericksen and Son Heung-Min. All the concerns about them moving to Wembley Stadium for a year where they had previously struggled (which I bought into) turned out to be much overblown and Spurs settled into their temporary home just fine (they were 5th best at home this year).
Kane actually had his best scoring season of his career with 30 Premier League goals, but thanks to Mo Salah did not win a third-consecutive Golden Boot. There have been recent concerns about his fitness (particularly given that there’s a World Cup coming up and the hopes of a nation rest more or less on his shoulders) but he scored four goals in his final four games of the season, so I don’t think England fans need to be overly concerned.
I continued to be impressed this year with Ericksen, who I view as equally important to Spurs’ success as Kane. He had 10 goals himself this season in addition to his team co-leading (with Alli) 10 assists. There are few players in the league who can pass as well as he can and he continues to be one of the league’s best free-kick takers.
Dele Alli had a solid year with 9 goals and 10 assists, not quite enough to three-peat as Young Player of the Year but it should be enough to cement him in the starting lineup for England at this summer’s World Cup.
Finally on the attacking front there’s Son Heung-Min, who going into this season I considered to be one of the most underrated players in the Premier League. It’s hard to say that anymore, as he scored 12 times for Spurs this year, second only to Kane. I really don’t understand how he didn’t start more than 27 games. Erik Lamela is a good player, but he hasn’t produced for Spurs as consistently as Son does.
Spurs were solid defensively as usual, and the combination of Kieran Trippier and Serge Aurier filled in the gap left by Kyle Walker. The big news here is that it’s been widely reported that Toby Alderweireld, one of the Premier League’s top defenders, has turned down a new contract with Spurs and wants to leave this summer. While Davidson Sanchez has been solid for Spurs alongside Jan Vertonghen, this would be a huge blow for them. The good news is that if they sell Alderweireld they should get a ton of money in return.
From there, the question is if anyone else will be following Alderweireld out the door. There is constant speculation over how long Harry Kane will stay at Tottenham, and Alli and Ericksen will attract attention as well.
4. Liverpool (75 Points, qualified for the Champions League)
Going into this season I was concerned for Liverpool. Losing Philippe Coutinho felt like a blow similar to when Suarez left a few seasons ago, their defense had struggled and not really been improved, and I thought manager Jurgen Klopp’s style would wear them down over the course of the season. Turn out I was way wrong.
First, Coutinho didn’t even leave in the summer transfer window, sticking around until January and making 14 Premier League appearances in which he scored 7 goals and added 6 assists. Then Coutinho left, and what was surprising is not only did Liverpool not regress, they arguably got better. Coutinho was never a perfect fit in Klopp’s 4-3-3 system, being a bit more attacking than the type of midfielder Klopp likes to play and not really a natural winger. With him gone, the focus shifted to the front three of Mohammed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane who were given the freedom to do largely as they saw fit. Without Coutinho, Salah took up the role as the focal point of Liverpool’s attack and did not disappoint as he racked up 32 Premier League goals, a record for a single season (the previous record was 31 held by Luis Suarez, Cristiano Ronaldo and Alan Shearer). For good measure he also led the team with 10 assists, while Firmino pitched in 15 G/7 A and Sadio Mane 12 G/7 A.
As for Liverpool’s defense, they were a little better than expected. While they inexplicably did not sign any new central defenders last summer, they did finally manage to get Virgil van Dijk from Southampton in January. The best part of that is it meant they only had to play one of Joel Matip, Ragnar Klavan and Dejan Lovren at any given time. Andrew Robertson ascended to the starting left back role quicker than I expected and has be excellent. The injury issues of right back Nathaniel Clyne (which saw him miss most of the season) turned out to not be a concern thanks to the play of Trent Alexander-Arnold in his place. Liverpool also finally seem to have a solution in goal, as Loris Karius has supplanted the often criticized Simon Mignolet as the starter.
Then there’s the matter of the Champions League, which I said I thought would really be a challenge for Liverpool. Clearly I don’t know what I’m talking about as they’ll be facing Real Madrid in the Champions League Final in less than two weeks.
The one flaw this team may have is its general lack of depth up front, but those front 3 players have been so good so consistently that it doesn’t seem to matter. If I’m Liverpool, my goals for the summer are to add depth to the attack and maybe to strengthen the defense a bit more.
It’s been a great season for Liverpool, now hopefully they go and beat Madrid.
5. Chelsea (70 Points, qualified for the Europa League)
Where oh where to start with this Chelsea team? Last season’s Champions could not have stumbled harder out of the gate this season with an opening loss to Burnley, and that really set the stage for the rest of the season. Things went fine in the first half of the year, as the Blues were in second place on January 1st and had qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League, getting out of a group that contained Roma and Atletico Madrid. They were seven points ahead of Arsenal in 5th and eight points ahead of Tottenham in 8th. Things went downhill from that point, as Chelsea repeatedly lost games they shouldn’t have. Bournemouth, Watford, West Ham, Huddersfield, Newcastle; all teams who finished 10th or worse to whom Chelsea dropped points over the second half of the season. They were actually on a five game winning streak going into their final two matches, still with a chance to qualify for the Champions League. Then, they proceeded to draw against Huddersfield and lose to Newcastle, two games that put the frequent disinterest of both the players and coach Antonio Conte on full display. The Blues finished 5th and will be in the Europa League next season, and there’s a lot of uncertainty between now and then.
So what happened? There were plenty of questions about this Chelsea season before it even began. They sold Nemanja Matic to Manchester United, a direct rival, in a move that was opposed by Antonio Conte but carried out by the Board of Directors without his consent. A change completely in Conte’s control was the forcing out of Diego Costa after a falling out between the two that became very public. As for their replacements, Tiemoue Bakayoko was brought in from Monaco to replace Matic and Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid to replace Costa. The two new players cost a total of over $125 million. Chelsea will certainly not feel that they got their money’s worth. Bakayoko was poor all season, constantly giving the ball away even when under little to no pressure. Morata started the season ok, but ended up scoring just 11 goals (this included a hat-trick against Stoke early in the season). Morata’s problem was that, while he’s one of the best there is at scoring with his head, he’s not particularly good at scoring with his feet, which is a bit of a problem for a soccer player whose job it is to score goals (there are plenty of examples to choose from).
Conte was additionally frustrated with not being able to bring in the players he wanted, instead having to settle for less expensive options like Ross Barkley, Emerson Palmieri, and Olivier Giroud. To be fair to Giroud, he did an good job trying to fill the void left by Morata’s struggles.
Elsewhere, N’Golo Kante continued to be perhaps the best defensive mid in the world (only Wilfried N’didi and Idrissa Gueye had more tackles), Cesar Azpilicueta had another great season (just make him the captain already), and Andreas Christensen was phenomenal in the middle of Conte’s back-3 and was well deserving of Chelsea’s young player of the year award.
Eden Hazard had an ok season with 12 goals, but there is still concern over how personally invested Hazard is in club. There has been speculation for years over when, not if, he will eventually move to Real Madrid. The thing is, seasons like the one he just had are unlikely to result in Real Madrid being willing to pay what Chelsea would demand for a player of Hazard’s ability.
A player who, much like he did during Chelsea’s dismal 2015/16 title defending season, rose above all the noise was Willian who led the team in assists and always seemed to give 100%. Willian best illustrates the apathy of this team because he is usually not a part of it. If every Chelsea player played with the integrity and passion of Willian they wouldn’t find themselves outside the top four.
Finally, there is the foregone conclusion that Antonio Conte is leaving the club. As a Chelsea fan, I wish it didn’t have to be this way. Last season, Conte revitalized a team coming off its worst season in memory and Chelsea absolutely dominated the Premier League on their way to another Premier League title. His tactics were revolutionary in England, and team’s struggled to figure Chelsea. Each game, Conte’s celebrations of goals became more and more over the top.
That’s all gone this year. Conte’s 3-4-3 formation is no longer a mystery and has become inflexible. Gone is the man who would dive into the crowd in celebration, replaced by a man who stands on the sideline looking bored and unhappy.
I like Antonio Conte and I want to see him given a chance to build something at Chelsea. The problem is it’s clear that the board and the owner, Roman Abramovich, do not support Conte. Thus, if the Club is to succeed, I think it may be necessary for Conte to go and the Chelsea managerial revolving door to keep spinning.
Chelsea will need a new manager, and could certainly use some reinforcements at the midfield and wing-back positions (which was true a year ago).
A win against Manchester United in the FA Cup Final is a great way to end the season and give it some meaning, but it fundamentally doesn’t change the issues the club currently face and will make this summer’s inevitable changes all the more surreal.
6. Arsenal (63 Points, qualified for the Europa League)
It’s been a strange season in the red half of North London. Their quest to return to the Champions League came to an end last week when they lost in the semifinals of the Europa League to Atletico Madrid, as it’s been a foregone conclusion for some time that they wouldn’t be finishing in the Top 4. While Man City have had a historic season, Arsenal finished closer to the bottom of the table than the top in terms of points. They finished 12 points from the Top 4 and 7 points from Chelsea in 5th.
From an Arsenal perspective it’s hard to find too many positives from this season. Granit Xhaka established himself as a rock in the Arsenal midfield and didn’t even get sent off once this season. Jack Wilshere made it through the year without a season ending injury. However, that’s about the end of the good news injury wise, as much like in other recent seasons the Gunners were decimated by injury throughout the season. This was capped off by the news this week that Laurent Koscielny tore his achilles and will be out for 6 months. The injuries particularly took their toll defensively, with Shkodran Mustafi and Callum Chambers both missing significant time along with Koscielny dealing with a handful of small injuries over the course of the season. Perhaps the biggest defensive problem this season for Arsenal was in a place they didn’t expect: in goal. Petr Cech finally looks to be over the hill in terms of his ability as a goalkeeper, as he led the Premier League with 6 errors leading to goals. The combination of poor defending and poor goalkeeping saw the Gunners finish the season as the 8th best team in terms of goals conceded, a worse defense than Newcastle and Burnley.
There was optimism galore for Arsenal fans before this season, as the team finally did what fans have been demanding for years and spent big on a striker in Alexandre Lacazette. He had a solid debut season with 14 league goals, but no other Arsenal player managed more than 9. That 10 came from Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, and even more expensive striker who was signed at the end of January. Even more concerning, Alexis Sanchez led the team in shots taken despite leaving in January. Arsenal scored the third most goals in the Premier League, but it didn’t matter. For all their attacking talent, it probably should have been more. Mesut Ozil posted just 8 assists, his lowest in 4 years since only making 22 appearances in 2014/15. Better also could have been expected from players like Danny Welbeck and Alex Iwobi.
Arsenal have really struggled down the stretch, failing to win a game away from home in 2018 until the final day of the season at Huddersfield (they were the only team in the top four tiers of English Football without an away win in that span). That may be the best answer to “how did Arsenal end up in 6th place?” They were the 11th best team in the league away from home over the course of the season.
Finally, there is Arsene Wenger. The long-time Arsenal manager, who has been in charge for the last 22 seasons, will leave the club this summer. This has been the kindest firing I’ve ever seen, but that’s also made it awkward and it’s a bit tough to see someone as integral to the history of a team as Wenger is to Arsenal go out this way. The team clearly wanted to make it look like this was a mutual decision, but it came out that Wenger had no say in the timing of the announcement that he would be leaving. I do think Wenger’s relationship with Arsenal had gone on too long, however I do understand the desire to give him a proper send off like they did at their final home game against Huddersfield. I think this moment would have been a bit better if it was a result of Wenger realizing it was time to leave and departing of his own accord, but it was clear Wenger didn’t want to leave, so the Arsenal board did what they had to do.
Wenger’s players gave him a fitting farewell present with a 5-0 win over Burnley, perhaps their best performance of the entire season. The best moment of the day came during Wenger’s postgame remarks, in which he noted that “like you, I am an Arsenal fan.” Wenger will go on to coach elsewhere (apparently he has a bunch of job offers already).
This is the worst finish of any Arsenal team under Wenger, a sure sign that it’s time to move on. It’s what’s best for both Wenger and the club.
Looking forward, with an already suspect defense and Koscielny out until probably November, Arsenal need to bring in at least one more center back this summer. It’s also time to decide what to do with Jack Wilshere. If they want to get back to the Champions League, Arsenal have some serious work to do.
7. Burnley (54 Points, qualified for Europa League)
And the award for “overachievement of the season” goes to Burnley. They were an incredibly popular pick to get relegated this year, having sold MIchael Keane to Everton and Andre Gray to Watford, both of whom ended up struggling for their new clubs. Sean Dyche has done an incredible job, and in my mind should definitely win the manager of the season award (although if it goes to Pep I won’t have any complaints).
Their success is most owed to goalkeeper Nick Pope, who was one of the individual surprises of the season in how well he’s done since Tom Heaton injured his shoulder in September, along with the center back pairing of Ben Mee and James Tarkowski. The only teams to concede fewer goals this season were the Manchesters, Tottenham, Chelsea and Liverpool. Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood led the team in scoring with 9 each, which with a tight defense was enough to secure Europa League qualification, the first time in Burnley’s history they have qualified for European competition. Looks like that Week 1 win against Chelsea wasn’t a fluke after all.
The question now for Burnley is if they can hold on to key players like Tarkowski.
8. Everton (49 points)
By Logan Whitehead, an Everton fan (and yes a different Logan than our weekly Cubs writer)
From creating a whirlwind of anticipation during the summer transfer window, to firing Ronald Koeman after landing in the relegation zone, to then riding high again after Sam Allardyce’s appointment, and ultimately ending the season on a low note with a loss to West Ham, it’s been a tough season to be an Everton fan. On the back of a good 2016-2017 season, finishing 7th with 61 points and 17 wins, there was a belief that Ronald Koeman’s plan was working. The team had a strong core, and with a few key additions during the summer window, the team could have a chance at bridging the gap to the top 4 and challenging for a place in the Champions League.
Lukaku moving to a top four club was the summer’s worst kept secret, but there was still plenty of optimism that Koeman could use the Lukaku funds to bring in the type of players who in previous seasons would have been deemed too expensive and unrealistic to pursue. And with former Leicester City scout Steve Walsh (he found Vardy, Mahrez, and Kante) heading up recruitment, and majority owner Farhad Moshiri promising to invest heavily, it was almost impossible not to be excited about the upcoming season.
The summer got off to a flying start, with Koeman signing goalkeeper Jordan Pickford from Sunderland, defender Michael Keane from Burnley, midfielder Davy Klaassen from Ajax, and former Barcelona striker Sandro Ramírez from Málaga all before the first week of July. Add in the big name signing of Wayne Rooney on a free transfer from Manchester United and the highly anticipated arrival of Gylfi Sigurdsson from Swansea, and there was plenty for fans to be optimistic about.
Unfortunately, it went wrong almost from the start. After taking four points from their first two league games and progressing past Hadjuk Split in the Europa League playoff, the team went on a disastrous run, winning only four points from seven games and failing to win at all in Europe. With the team having slumped into the relegation zone, Koeman got the sack, with Burnley’s Sean Dyche and Watford’s Marco Silva rumored to replace him. But after nearly a month of speculation, the club unexpectedly hired “Big” Sam Allardyce, a decision that upset many fans due to Allardyce’s reputation for playing unattractive football. But almost immediately, the team experienced an upturn in form, highlighted by Wayne Rooney’s improved performances and hat trick against West Ham. By the end of 2017, the team had already moved back into 9th place and were just 3 points behind Leicester City. But by the beginning of February, the team’s form declined again and the inconsistency that had plagued the team remained through the rest of the season. The team edged out a couple of scrappy wins in April, but did little to change the mood around the club.
Considering the supporters’ optimism last summer, this season would have to be described as a disappointment. Despite finishing a respectable 8th, the team finished with 49 points this season compared to last season’s 61. There is a negative atmosphere hanging over the club and a growing dissatisfaction among the fans. This is probably best seen in the club’s annual fan survey, which included a question asking them to rate Big Sam’s performance on a scale out of 10, and to which many responded with a “0”. With rumors now circulating that Rooney could be heading to the MLS and uncertainty in the media over whether Big Sam will survive the summer, it may be a good time to press the “reboot” button yet again and spend another summer overhauling the squad.
9. Leicester City (47 Points)
Hey, I got this one right! Leicester are basically now exactly where they were a year ago: aware they will (probably) never come close to the magic of 2015/16 with Riyad Mahrez clearly wanting to leave.
Jamie Vardy quietly had another excellent season, leading the Foxes with 20 Premier League goals, as Mahrez chipped in with 12 goals and 10 assists. Harry Maguire proved to be one of the best signings of the summer as a rock in the middle of the Leicester defense, showing Leicester a future in that position beyond the aging Wes Morgan. Wilfried Indidi was also a reliable defensive force, and is becoming one of the best defensive midfielders in the League.
Leicester did make some moves last summer to try and upgrade their attack, most notably the signing of Kelechi Iheanacho. However, Iheanacho hasn’t replicated his scoring from Manchester City, not even close, scoring just 3 goals this season in 21 appearances. Meanwhile, Adrien Silva, who last summer was supposed to be a marquee signing, wasn’t allowed to play until January and hardly made an impact in his 12 games.
It’s hard to imagine Mahrez isn’t leaving, and he’ll leave big shoes to fill at Leicester if they’re to remain a top-half Premier League club.
10. Newcastle United (44 Points)
At the turn of the year, Newcastle were in 15th place but have managed to work themselves into the top-half, secured by their final day win against Chelsea. Rafa Benitez has done an excellent job this season with his limited resources after the club did little to improve the squad following their promotion last season. When you look at the team’s goal-scoring stats, it’s hard to believe they’re as high in the standings as they did. Ayoze Perez led the Magpies with 8 goals; only Swansea and Southampton had a less prolific leading scorer. The key for Newcastle was that they were excellent defensively, allowing the 7th fewest goals this season. Newcastle captain Jamaal Lascelles and fellow defenders Paul Dummett, Florian Lejeune, Ciaran Clark, and Deandre Yedlin (USA!) deserve a ton of credit for their play this season.
Newcastle fans (and perhaps Rafa Benitez as well) will be hoping that owner Mike Ashley finally sells the club this summer to someone willing to spend some money. Another summer of minimal squad improvement will leave Benitez and his team looking at another difficult fight next season.
11. Crystal Palace (44 Points)
What a weird season for Crystal Palace. Frank DeBeor was fired after just four games as manager and the team didn’t score a goal until October, a record for scoring futility to start a Premier League season. Thus, it’s incredible that they’ve finished as high in the table as they have. Credit first has to be given to Roy Hodgson, the former England manager whose hiring was largely greeted with an eye roll, particularly when Palace continued to lose without scoring in his first few games. However, he’s gotten the team to a place where they can compete with anyone in the League. That said, with all respect due to Hodgson, the man who Crystal Palace are most thankful for is Wilfried Zaha. It’s no surprise that Crystal Palace’s first win of the season against Chelsea coincided with Zaha’s first appearance after returning from injury. In the 12 total games Zaha missed this season with injury, Palace won only once and lost the other 11. That means that in their other 26 games they averaged 1.58 points/match, which over the course of the whole season would have put them in 7th place. Sadly for Palace, it’s expected they’ll sell Zaha this summer. The good news is that they should get an incredible amount of money in return for Zaha to try to replace his goals. Finally, I have to mention the importance of Luka Milivojevic who led the team with 10 goals (9 of which were penalties).
It’ll be an interesting summer for Crystal Palace. If Zaha leaves, they’ll have their work cut out for them.
12. Bournemouth (44 Points)
Yawn. Did Bournemouth actually play 38 games this season? I hardly noticed they were there. First, all credit to Eddie Howe for keeping Bournemouth up again this year. It’s easy to forget how impressive Bournemouth’s sustained Premier League status is for a club with such minimal resources. Sure, the Jermain Defoe experiment didn’t quite go as planned, as he scored just 4 goals. Their most important signing from last summer turned out to be young defender Nathan Ake from Chelsea, who led the team in defensive clearances. That’s really all I’ve got for Bournemouth. In the words of Jose Mourinho, “I have nothing to say.”
13. West Ham United (42 Points)
Another year when West Ham make additions to their squad that make me think they’re finally going to compete with the big teams, and another year that I’ve been completely fooled and they’re underwhelming. I had West Ham finishing in the top-half of the Premier League, but they’ll just consider themselves lucky to not have been relegated. As good as Marko Arnautovic was for the Hammers (you could argue he single-handedly kept them up), Javier Hernandez didn’t quite put up the numbers West Ham fans would have hoped for (Hernandez for some reason only started 20 games this season).
Before the season started I called Joe Hart “a big upgrade over Adrian and Darren Randolph” which turned out to not be true at (4 errors leading to goals in just 19 games). Adrian has taken back the #1 spot and I doubt West Ham will be looking to bring Hart back next season, whose future is really up in the air as he’s certainly not needed at his home club of Man City. Hart wasn’t alone is being a problem at the back for West Ham, as they allowed the most goals of any team in the League. Pablo Zabaleta had a respectable season, particularly as a 33-year-old who started all but one game for West Ham this season. He’s one of the best defenders the League has ever seen, and it’s a shame he has to be lumped in with arguably the League’s worst defense.
West Ham’s transfer policy has seemed to be “buy flashy attackers to bail out our Swiss cheese defense.” For their own sake, hopefully the people who run West Ham rethink that this summer. Their owns safety is quite literally at risk
14. Watford (41 Points)
The Hornets made some serious moves last summer, bringing in young English midfielder Nathaniel Chalobah from Chelsea, striker Andre Gray from Burnley, and unknown talent Richarlison from Fluminense in Brazil.
Richarlison started the season extremely well, but he doesn’t have a goal since November. Chalobah has been out since September with a knee injury. Gray has scored just 5 goals this season.
Another problem for Watford is that Troy Deeney, who has been Watford’s go-to-guy for the better part of the last decade, isn’t quite what he used to be and cannot carry the entire load. All credit to Abdoulaye Doucoure, but if a central midfielder is leading your team in goals and isn’t Frank Lampard or Yaya Toure you might have some striker issues. Watford were the 12th highest scoring team in the Premier League this season, but the real problem is they conceded 64 goals, 3rd worst.
Watford were involved in one of the season’s weirdest moments when Marco Silva was fired in January after Watford accused Everton of making a “unwarranted approach” that derailed Watford’s season. Basically, everyone knew that Everton wanted Silva as their new coach but you can’t just hire someone who already has a job coaching another team. Watford claimed Silva losing focus on the team is why they were bad. Or, just maybe Watford, your defenders are terrible and that’s why you don’t win games. Just a thought.
15. Brighton and Hove Albion (40 Points)
I picked Brighton to finish in last place this season and go right back to the Championship where they came from, and boy was I wrong. The main reason I was wrong is that I, nor do I think anyone else, foresaw Glenn Murray going and scoring 12 Premier League goals. Last time he was in the Premier League was back in 2015/16 with Bournemouth during their first EPL season, and he scored just 3 goals. Providing support has been Pascal Gross, one of Brighton’s new players last summer who scored 7 goals while leading the team with 8 assists. Brighton may have only scored 34 goals this season, but they were 9th in fewest goals allowed.
Congratulations to manager Chris Hughton and his team for proving me wrong, hopefully they can add even more depth this summer and be successful again next year.
16. Huddersfield Town (37 Points)
When I think about the rosters of every team, Huddersfield stands out as having the least talent of any team in the Premier League. Nevertheless, they’re staying up. Being the underdog (literally, they’re the Terriers) isn’t a new role for Huddersfield. Two seasons ago they finished 17th in the Championship (the second tier for those who are new), narrowly avoiding relegation. They were picked by many to get relegated last year from the Championship, but instead finished 6th and won the Championship Playoffs to be promoted to the Premier League where this season they have defied the odds again. The job German-American (but mostly German) manager David Wagner has done with this team is incredibly impressive, comparable to Eddie Howe’s rise with Bournemouth.
Huddersfield have only scored 28 goals this season and have a worse goal differential than West Brom; I honestly don’t understand how they’ve stayed up. While the game that clinched safety for them was tough to watch for me personally because it basically ended Chelsea’s quest for the Top 4, it produced this amazing celebration:
If that wasn’t enough, they canceled their flight home so they could go out and party then take a bus home instead. It’s really hard not to like this team. Hopefully they can stick around for a while.
17. Southampton (36 Points)
Congratulations, Southampton! You did the absolute bare minimum to avoid relegation. After four consecutive seasons where the Saints finished 8th or higher they took a massive dive this season. Mario Lemina, their marquee signing from Juventus last summer, who recorded just one assist in his 25 Premier League appearances this season. This is more or less the same team that finished 8th last season, and they just came out and stunk. The biggest difference was the departure of center back Virgil van Dijk for Liverpool halfway through the season (although he wasn’t that great for Saints in the first half, with his desire to leave being well known). Goalkeeper Fraser Forster struggled through the first 20 games of the season before being replaced by Alex McCarthy who turned out to be one of Southampton’s few positives from this season. Charlie Austin led the team in scoring with 7 goals, but only started 10 games. While the players certainly hold a lot of responsibility for this season, the coaching of Mauricio Pellegrino and then Mark Hughes (who almost became the first manager to manage two relegated clubs in the same season) was frequently suspect. Hughes is now getting credit for saving Southampton’s season, as the Saints went 2-2-3 to end the season (8 points from 7 games). That’s barely better than what they managed for the season (36 points from 38 games), and includes blowing a 2-0 lead at home against Chelsea and giving up a goal with only a few seconds left in their final game against Man City to lose 1-0. This team is lucky to still be in the Premier League.
18. Swansea City (33 Points, relegated to the Championship)
There’s no way around it: while Swansea technically were not relegated until the final day of the season they absolutely deserved to go down. Their revolving door of managers continued this season as Paul Clement, who was hailed as a savior last year after digging them out of the hole created by Francesco Guidolin and Bob Bradley, was fired just before Christmas with Swansea in last place. Leon Britton then became a player manager for a few games before Carlos Carvalhal was brought in from Sheffield Wednesday (because nothing says “Premier League Manager” like being in the bottom half of the Championship). Things got a little better under Carvalhal, but all the Ayew brothers in the world weren’t going to save Swansea (they brought in Andre from West Ham to join his brother Jordan in January). The thing I never understood down the stretch was why Tammy Abraham (on loan from Chelsea) didn’t play more. I may be biased as a Chelsea fan, but Abraham was the team’s second leading scorer despite starting just 15 games and only started one of the team’s final nine Premier League games. I know you can only play so many attackers, but Andre Ayew did not score even once in the 12 games he played for Swansea.
Then there is the real elephant in the room: Renato Sanches. The 20-year-old Portuguese midfielder’s loan from Bayern Munich was one of the most shocking moves of last summer, only made possible by Paul Clement’s close relationship with then Bayern coach Carlo Ancelotti. Almost a year later, both Clement and Ancelotti are unemployed and Sanches might as well be as he did absolutely nothing in his 12 Premier League appearances this season. The winner of the Young Player of the Tournament award at the 2016 European Championships has not played for Swansea since January. A player who just a year ago was regarded as one of the world’s most promising talents now finds his future in jeopardy.
Things won’t get any easier for the Swans, as several key players from the current team (particularly defenders) will likely leave this summer.
19. Stoke City (33 Points, relegated to the Championship)
What a disaster Stoke City are. They’ve completely wasted the talent of Xherdan Shaqiri, and it turns out there was a reason a club like Stoke were able to sign Jese Rodriguez from PSG (he only scored one goal in just 13 appearances). They allowed 68 goals this season, which is a pretty sure way to go down. Saido Berahino still hasn’t scored a Premier League goal since February 2016 (and he wanted to go to Tottenham, lol), and Marko Arnautovic going to West Ham has proved fatal for the Potters. Then there’s Ibrahim Afellay, the former Barcelona midfielder who has made only six appearances for Stoke this year and was told by manager Paul Lambert (who has had absolutely no impact since replacing Mark Hughes in January) to stay away from the club. The whole club is a mess, a sentiment well summed up by goalkeeper Jack Butland, who will almost certainly never play for Stoke again. Joining him on the march out the door will be Kurt Zouma, who has been on loan from Chelsea, the aforementioned Shaqiri, and midfielder Joe Allen; there could certainly be more.
Stoke have been in the Premier League for the last 10 years. Who knows when they’ll be back (just don’t be like Sunderland).
20. West Bromwich Albion (31 Points, relegated to the Championship)
I predicted West Brom would finish in 12th place. How did I get this so wrong? Well, teams coached by Tony Pulis seem to always finish somewhere between 10th and 14th, and this West Brom team had finished 10th last year. However, Pulis’ strategy of scoring as little as possible but staying up inevitably stopped working an he was fired in November. At the time, West Brom were in 17th. Little did they know it was about to get way worse. Alan Pardew took over, and West Brom went on to win just once in their next 20 Premier League games before Pardew was also shown the door. Darren Moore, the team’s Assistant Manager, was given the head job on a interim basis. Since Moore took over, West Brom have only lost once (their final game against Palace); they’ve drawn with Swansea and Liverpool and have beaten Manchester United, Newcastle, and Tottenham. However, it proved to be too little too late and West Brom are going down.
While this feels unfortunate because of how the season ended, West Brom were miserable for most of this season and earned their relegation. I do hope Darren Moore gets the manager job on a permanent basis (I can’t imagine why he wouldn’t), and who knows maybe this phenomenal run to end the year will convince some of the better players to stick around for next year. If there’s one player I’d pick to leave West Brom for another Premier League team, I’d pick goalkeeper Ben Foster. All the best in the future, Baggies.
So that’s that, I got the Manchesters flipped, totally underestimated Liverpool and overestimated Everton, and went 1 for 3 on the relegation teams while I thought the other two would be mid-table.
There will be quite a bit of soccer content on here over the course of the summer with the World Cup starting in about a month. At some point in June I’ll have a full World Cup preview/prediction blog so keep an eye out for that if you’re interested.
As always, especially if you’ve made it to the end of this, thanks for reading.