Image Source: Higor Douglas (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Back to back titles for Man City
Well what a season we have just witnessed in the Premier League. Manchester City have been crowned champions for the 4th time this decade and have won back to back titles for the first time in their history. But unlike last season, which was won at a canter, they had to fight for this title as Liverpool made sure that it would go down to the last game of the season.
Despite winning titles at Barcelona and Bayern Munich and being coach of Barcelona when generally everyone regarded Barca as one of the best club sides in history, Pep Guardiola has said that this title is his most rewarding and toughest. Of course it is, Guardiola has never had such a challenge and Liverpool should be applauded for at least making the title run in interesting.
Guardiola pointed out that City have accumulated 198 points in two seasons, for a lot of mid table teams in the Premier League that tally can take four years to achieve. And then there is the clubs 14 game winning streak to win it. Had they lost just one of those they would have conceded the title. The club showed great mental strength and a lot of that obviously goes down to the players and the fantastic squad that they can pull on.
Raheem Sterling has gone from a very good player to a world class player, and the team have characters that can rise to the occasion in Vincent Kompany and Bernardo Silva. City also have the fortune that if one or two key players are injured they can simply bring in others, such was the case at times this season with injuries to the likes of Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne. City's riches have given them that choice, but make no mistake Liverpool were far from shy in the summer transfer window. They were the League's biggest spenders by far, with a net transfer activity of -£164.5mil, compared to just -£30m for Man City. After Klopp previously said "I WANT to do it differently. I would even do it differently if I COULD spend that money", he then spent £67m on goal keeper Alisson, £52.8m on midfielder Naby Keita, £43.7m on Fabinho, and £13.5m on Xherdan Shaqiri, and lets not forget virgil van dijk being signed for £75m just 6 months earlier.
However, as much as this title race was down to spending big, it was also down to the excellence of the clubs managers. Guardiola had to keep his players focused after the team dropped too many points in December, let's not forget at one stage Liverpool had a 7 point lead. However, the winning mentality from Guardiola is what shone through in the end and it is incredible to think that just one point has separated the teams after 9 months and 38 games. Can City make it a hat-trick of titles? You can get odds of 1.80 that they can.
So close, yet so far
And what of Liverpool? Yes because of their successes through the years there are many football fans who dislike the club, but certainly one can feel for them after they went the season losing just 1 game and finishing on 97 points only for that to still not be enough to win the league, which would have been their first since 1990.
It is even difficult to be critical of the club, for example what could they have changed? The truth is nothing really, not in how they played or the tactics deployed by Jurgen Klopp. Finishing on 97 points would have won the league in almost every other season and it would have been good enough to have won with a few games spare. It is interesting that the one game that The Reds did lose came against City, which is in one word fitting.
Still despite the obvious disappointment Liverpool do have a special consolation and that will be the Champions League Final where they will take on Tottenham. Klopp's team will start as favourites at 1.50 but Tottenham have put in some almighty performances in this competition and they are 2.50 to win, is their name written on the trophy and can they win it for the first time in their history? If they do manager Mauricio Pochettino has hinted that he may leave the club, so the win could end up being bittersweet. One has to ask why is there always a negative around Tottenham when success comes knocking at the door?
While Manchester City and Liverpool did set the standard in the Premier League and pushed each other so much they ended up improving one another the jury must be out on the teams that finished 3rd to 6th.
Sarri showing his worth
Chelsea ended up in 3rd, which was a great success for the club, and it is rather odd that manager Maurizio Sarri has being under fire this season. The Blues started the season undefeated in the first 3 months, reached the Europa League Final and the Carabao Cup Final, and secured a top 3 place in Sarri's debut season, which is not bad going. True the club may end up with no trophies but the Italian has still improved the club based on last season and they will be playing Champions League football whatever happens this season.
Pound for pound the best
Tottenham have arguably been the best pound for pound team in the league especially when you consider they didn't buy anyone this season. But at the same time there has to be question marks over a team who have reached the Champions League Final losing 13 league games this season. In that sense they have underachieved in the league and finishing 27 points behind the eventual champions is nothing to write home about. Perhaps home has been a major factor for the club though, who spent the majority of the season at Wembley Stadium after delays to their new and improved stadium meant that they didn't move in until April.
Signs of improvement for Arsenal
Arsenal have looked stronger under Unai Emery but they still lost 10 games, 8 of those away from home, and the clubs away form hasn't changed much since Arsene Wenger was in charge. However the improvement within the team has been evident. Under Wenger in their last season they finished with 63 points, this season that was 70, gaining 7 points is huge. Under Wenger last season they reached the Europa League semi-final stage being outclassed by La Liga side Atletico Madrid. This season they beat La Liga side Valencia to reach the final and scored 7 goals to boot. Like Chelsea, Arsenal could end up with no trophies but they have taken some steps forward.
Player problems at Utd?
Then there is the case of Manchester United, a season just as blackened and grey as the skies over the city in the winter months. Jose Mourinho at the club just didn't fit, even if he brought them trophies his players didn't respond well to his managerial style.
Once Sky Sports cameras picked up Mourinho arguing with Paul Pogba in training everything seemed to spiral out of control and the club were sinking into mid table. No matter what hand Mourinho played United were not winning and this was Chelsea 2015 all over again. The end came after defeat against their biggest historical rival Liverpool and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was named as the new manager.
The Norwegian seemed to be the right choice, wearing a constant smile, his bright blue eyes and still that baby face despite him being all of 46 years old not only won the hearts of fans but most importantly won the hearts of the players. Even Pogba cracked a smile, all was good with the club and that was confirmed in their first game under him when they destroyed Cardiff 5-1. They went on a 12 game unbeaten run, finally losing away to Arsenal in March, but it was a run that gave the club Champions League hope. They flirted with 4th position when, at Christmas that seemed to be an impossibility.
However, the Arsenal defeat was soon followed with being knocked out of the Champions League and thoroughly outclassed by Barcelona and then cracks started to show. All of a sudden Solskjaer's smile had faded quicker than the sun in Oslo, he criticised some players and signed a full time contract keeping him with the club for 3 years. Then the club went their last five games of the season without any wins, including being smashed 4-0 against Everton and losing 2-0 to the already relegated Cardiff at home on the final day of the season. Maybe Mourinho leaving wasn't the answer after all. Switching manager is often the easiest action to take for an underperforming club, however sometimes the players attitudes can be the problem rather than a managers tactics. United finished 6th and it will be back to Thursday nights and Europa League football for a team who have yet to recover, despite the odd speed bump, 6 years on from the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson.
And then there was the rest and a lot of plaudits need to be handed out to both Wolves and Watford, two clubs who punched above their weight this season. For much of it Watford remained a threat and ended up finishing with 50 points and in 11th place. But they also reached their first FA Cup Final since 1984 at the expense of Wolves in a thrilling semi-final, which ended 3-2. As for Wolves they finished in 7th and played some exciting attacking and positive football.
Silva proves doubters wrong
Everton had some ups and downs but ended the season in superb form under new manager Marco Silva. Beating teams such as Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal was one thing, but the team had a good attacking flair about them also. They also got the last laugh over their eternal rivals Liverpool. The last points that The Reds dropped was at Goodison Park, two months ago as the game ended 0-0. Had Liverpool won they would have won the league, and Everton's fans will not let that go unnoticed, especially after Klopp's Anfield celebrations when beating Everton in the dying seconds earlier in the season.
Injuries and inconsistency
West Ham looked good at times under the guidance of Manuel Pellegrini, but a rash of long-term injuries scuppered any chances the club had of finishing in a European place and they ended the season in 10th position. One of the most improved teams from last season was Roy Hodgson's Crystal Palace who finished in 12th and based on the last 10 games would have been 3rd in the league. Is this a sign of things to come for The Eagles next season?
Relegation and tragedy
Relegation in the end went to Huddersfield, Fulham and Cardiff and then despite staying up Chris Hughton at Brighton was sacked, but that may have to do with the fact that his side played some negative football in the second half of the season.
Finally we cannot end the piece without talking about two tragedies that obviously affected anyone connected to football. First there was Leicester City's owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha who died when his helicopter crashed shortly after take-off from King Power Stadium. Then Emiliano Sala who was signed by Cardiff from Nantes before his life was tragically cut short in a plane crash on his way to joining up with his teammates.
Hopefully next season will be free from tragedy, and the new set of fixtures will be released on June 13th, and before we know it pre-season will be around the corner and the new season will be kicking off on August 10th.