Premier League Team by Team Review
1st Liverpool (Champions) 30 years! The wait is over. With the signing of Virgil Van Dijk, Liverpool look every bit the complete side that has bolstered what was always a fierce attacking outfit with undoubtably, the most complete defender in world football. The Dutchman, with Alisson and the two fullbacks set the pace for a title surge early with a flawless start to the year. The trident of Mane, Firminio and Mo Salah were relentless once again and a much improved Jordan Henderson rightfully lifted the title with the same vigour he had done with the Champions league last summer. How his leadership has been overlooked for the England captaincy is baffling. A fine year for Jurgen Klopp, who in Liverpool will never walk alone. He is their hero. The team his army. The title red once more. A disappointing campaign in the cups will be overlooked by all – this was the one they really wanted. Congratulations Liverpool.
2nd Manchester City With the departure of Vincent Kompany it always seemed likely City would struggle to find a replacement. With Pep often using out of position players to cover his defensive frailties too often it was little surprise that when the injury to Aymeric Laporte completely derailed their season. Aguero’s injury woes prevented him from scoring 20+ goals in the Premier League for only the 3rd time in his City career. Even the magnificent De Bruyne, who equalled Thierry Henry’s record of 20 Premier League assists in a single season, couldn’t overcome the vulnerabilities of the team aiming for a 3rd successive Premier League title. If only Kevin had also bagged the 24 goals the Frenchman tallied that year, there mightn’t have been such a chasm at the top. With the Champions League ban overturned, we can expect investment for City and a re-invigorated side come September.
3rd Manchester United I’m not sure anyone would’ve said Manchester United would finish 3rd at the restart. Champions League football seemed uncertain for them – even with Manchester City’s now overturned ban – and it took a quite remarkable string of results from the Red Devils to put themselves back in contention. The signing of Bruno Fernandes cannot be overlooked – the Portuguese has been a revelation since coming in, and has had the effect on Paul Pogba that makes you remember the player who was such a driving force behind the France World Cup win in 2018. The attacking trio of Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and the young but deadly Mason Greenwood have culminated into a point of much positive speculation. A serious overhaul needed? ‘No longer!’ I hear you say. For all their firepower, if the backline isn’t fixed sharpish – the new season fixtures could look like Rugby scores for united fans and that’s not even drawing on De Gea’s end of season form.
4th Chelsea A Premier League all time great. Chelsea’s all time goalscorer. Serial winner with ‘his’ club. The return looked one of promise and expectancy but was shrouded in doubt. A successful spell at Derby was Frank Lampard’s only taste of management. Armed with a transfer ban and young squad with ageing elements, what could be expected in his first year – the pressure, at least from the off, was low. How these low expectations were exceeded beyond doubt can be attributed in somewhat to some fantastic young players, Abraham with a slew of goals in the first half of the season coupled with Mason Mount and Pulisic both coming up with enigmatic performances at times when called upon. Impressive that even with injuries to Kante, switches in formations, ever changing strikers and goalkeepers – Chelsea were able to secure Champions league football and even make an FA cup final, though they did lose out in the Wembley centrepiece to a resurgent Arsenal side. Franks first season at Chelsea, though it will taste bitter for the Final defeat can go down as nothing but a resounding success. Transfer business already having begun, with big name stars Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech already welcomed to the fold – it seems that everything is alright at Chelsea. Frank’s back home – and the future looks bright.
5th Leicester City Possibly the most disappointed team bar the relegation pack. Brendan Rodgers men played teams out of the park in the opening few months of the season and people dared bring up a repeat of the unfathomable 2014/15 5000/1 shot. But it was not to be. Although the foxes displays were often tantalising, Southampton fans close your eyes, winning 9-0 at St. Marys doesn’t win you the league. If it was not for Jamie Vardy rediscovering the midis touch that seemed to elude him for a section of the season, Leicester may have found themselves – in a year with so much promise – without a place in any European competition next year. Vardy, who won the Golden boot with a fantastic 23 goal return, spared the blushes of the manager – who for all the world looked smugly on for a top 4 finish in his first full season at the club. Chin un Brendan, with a youthful squad and an in form Vardy, there’s always next year!
6th Tottenham Hotspur Even after the Champions League Final heartbreak against Liverpool, it could be said that in Mauricio Pochettino, Spurs had found their man. A first Final – in the Champions League no less - in over ten years for the second largest club in North London, a world class manager and new stadium? Could this have been their year. The answer, was a resounding no. With no marquee signings in the summer, links to players who didn’t want to know and contract situations with some key men running out – it looked an uphill battle from the off. Come Christmas time, Poch was gone. Enter Jose. Mourinho looked the furthest manager possible from the style of play Spurs had been used to under the Argentinian. But in a roundabout Mourinho way – slowly they climbed the table. The league ascent proved too great for even the ‘special one’ to enter the Champions league places – no German humbling in line for next year then? We’ll wait and see.
7th Wolves What a season for Wolverhampton Wanderers. Upon their return to the Premier league it was clear for all the world to see that in Nuno Espirito Santo, Wolves had a man who was creating a team in his image. Intense and fiery at times but steely and resolute at others. The Portuguese influence on the team has been present since the overachieving days in the Championship. Ruben Neves shows every game he plays the reason he captained Porto at just 18 years old in the Champions League. In Jiminez they have the goal-scorer who, although showing flashes at both Atletico and Benfica, now given the nod as a trusted ‘main-man’ looks a finished article. By contrast Adama Traore is raw, breath-taking and has plenty room to improve – but has been devastating this year. I could wax lyrical about every player in the wolves squad from the Goalkeeper to Doherty at Right back for being standout performers – but in the end it was disappointment for Wolves – who miss out on Europa League next year due to an Arsenal FA Cup Final win. Next season, without the pressures of qualifying for Europe and a squad that seems to raise it’s game year after year – what can we expect from the hungriest team in the chase.
8th Arsenal Good Ebening. In a season that saw so much outside of football turbulence, with so many Premier League clubs in turmoil, was it in fact be the Gunners who went on the biggest rollercoaster of all? Under Emery, Arsenal were a team in relegation form. Gone were the days of having a reliable pillar of educated professionalism to quell the discontent of the fans, but – they asked for it. Unlike Arsene’s departure, Emery’s exit from the club was swift – though his replacement was not. Ljungberg’s appointment did little to steady the ship, though you could hardly blame the Swede who, with no managerial experience was always a stop gap. Then along came Mikel. Arteta, had learned his trade at City under Pep – and learned he had. Immediately, calm had re-entered the Emirates and the performances soon followed. The Premier league was a lost cause and the hiatus disrupted a fantastic run of form. End of season wins over Liverpool in the league followed up with a victory over City in the FA cup Semi Final set up a tie against Chelsea to both end the season with Silverware and a place in Europe. Aubameyang to the rescue once more. Without the Gabonese striker the start of next season would leave Arsenal a Championship club without Silverware and no Europe for the first season in 25 years. Instead, they are FA Cup Champions in Arteta’s first season, with a place in Europe to boot. Much of the credit must go to the man whom Wenger wanted as his immediate replacement. Remember Arsenal fans, ‘In Arsene We Trust’.
9th Sheffield United Had Jurgen Klopp not rightly won the Manager of the Year award, it would surely have gone to Chris Wilder. The Blades performance this season has beyond exceeded expectations. With little to no investment in the summer they were odds on to go straight back down. A lightning fast start to the season saw United up at the top for what many thought would be a fleeting moment. Hard to break down, tenacious and threatening on the counter – United were clipping wings left right and centre. Lundstrum was a standout performer providing goals and assists galore having not even been a regular in the Championship the season prior. Dead Henderson on loan from United put in a plethora of stellar performances and the selfless workmanlike McGoldrick was ever present – and rightly scored a goal before the close of the season. One would imagine a repeat of this season will be difficult for Wilder’s Barmy Army – but certainly not impossible.
10th Burnley Burnley under Sean Dyche have become the yearly overachievers. With what now looks like a blip in 18/19 after having a packed Europa League qualifying schedule Burnley resume their top half of the table status. Premier League regulars now, the Clarets have a steely mentality and are difficult to break down but with the additions of Chris Wood and Jay Rodriguez back at his hometown club – they look a real stable force, who have added goals to the equation. Nick Pope certainly did himself no disservice this year in his plight for the England no.1 spot – narrowly losing out to Ederson for the Golden Glove, surely the young Claret is odds on for the nod. Mee and Tarkowski once again had a season to remember at the back and youngster Dwight Mcneil really showed his class, expect a number of top clubs to be in for the winger in years to come. How Dyche has achieved what he has with Burnley, on the budget they have, is an incredible feat – though his now consistent success and dry sense of humour is such that if a ‘larger’ club came calling, he’d be the first to ask you to take a look at the table.
11th Southampton What a turnaround. Southampton looked certain for the drop and Hassenhutl out of a job after the 0-9 drubbing at St. Mary’s they suffered to Leicester. Many clubs have got rid of their Manager’s for far less in recent times. Credit then must go to the Southampton board, coaching staff and man at the helm for turning the season round in quite spectacular fashion. However, much credit you give to the management, let’s take a moment to reflect on the man who is now known as St. Danny in the South coast. With 22 league goals, 1 behind Golden boot winner Jamie Vardy and joint with Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, Ings’ goalscoring prowess this season reflected his Championship success against lesser opposition. After an injury hit time at Liverpool, it’s clear to see what Jurgen Klopp saw in the Englishman and surely – at only 27 years old – he has to be at the forefront of Southgate’s England attacking conundrum. It will be interesting what Southampton we see next season, but there’s one thing for sure – they must hold onto Ings.
12th Everton The Marco Silva era at Everton was not as progressive as his stint at Watford had indicated it would be. With the signing of Richarlison – Everton were spared blushes in a number of games through the Brazillians finishing ability and the emergence of Dominic Calvett Lewin under interim boss and Everton legend Duncan Ferguson were a big plus. Big Dunc lead the toffees to a number of impressive performances, and managed to steady the ship somewhat before the appointment of Carlo Ancelotti in December. Don Carlo, back in the Premier League, what a coup for the blue side of Merseyside. Many had thought he was destined for the Arsenal job, but Everton got their man and he immediately got the team firing again. A disappointing post lockdown string of results saw Everton – at one stage fighting for European football – slip to a 12th place finish. With a full summer window ahead, expect some major changes with Carlo at the helm. Could he be the man to return Everton to the European equation? He’s certainly got the resume.
13th Newcastle No one gave Newcastle much hope when Benitez left for China. The appointment of Steve Bruce seemed a budgeted hopeful approach, but how the man from the outskirts of the city he now manages has navigated this season has been quite remarkable at times. On top of misfiring strikers and injuries to key players, Newcastle have also battled the growing discontent at board level and uncertainty over the now rescinded takeover bid from the Suadi PIF. Through it all, Newcastle have showed resilience and although they had a woeful end of season. Performances from the mercurial Allen St. Maximin and Miguel Almiron, who seems to have now re-discovered the form in front of goal he had in the MLS with Atlanta, had been good enough for them not to have to worry about re-joining the relegation conversation. Although becoming a more and more impressive influence on the game, when Jonjo Shelvey is your top scorer with 6 league and having only scored 38 goals in their 38 games, a striker to replace the maligned £20million Joelinton, surely has to be priority number 1 for Steve Bruce in the summer…assuming he’s still in the job.
14th Crystal Palace How do you solve a problem like Zaha? In the Ivory Coast international, Palace have absolutely got one of the most exciting wingers in the Premier League…on his day. Having held out last summer for a £70million fee last summer, Arsenal amongst other clubs were warned off the signing of Zaha – much to the wide man’s annoyance – and it seems now that, with the post pandemic financial situations worldwide, £50million would be the top end of what they could expect. With a contract running down, it seems the only real talking point for Palace is will he stay or will he go now? If the latter, the Eagles need to find a replacement. As much as can be said for the impressive performances of Jordan Ayew, who is recreating his brothers’ goalscoring form from his days at Swansea – the attacking options on offer to Roy are few and far between. Cenk Tosun, signed from Everton hasn’t been firing and let’s not start on the statistics for Benteke – how he kept his place in the Belgian squad over players like Nainggolan is unbeknownst to most – but at the other end of the pitch at least, Palace look unnerved. Miljelojovic, captain and dead ball specialist will remain at the club and if the sale of Zaha does go through Palace will have some funds to strengthen and judging by the squads of newly promoted sides, they might have to.
15th Brighton Graham Potters’ first season in charge of the Seagulls was up and down but altogether successful. With the aim of staying in the Premier League and bedding in new signings to the fold, you can without hesitation say that they achieved their primary goal. Neal Maupay looks every bit the striker he was at Brentford and came up with some huge goals for the South coast side. Trossard looks a sparkling player when he’s on form and the midfield look to have decent depth and enough quality to account for injuries with GroB, Proper, Stevens and Bissouma. For all this positivity, it is the Brighton defence where the embarrassment of riches is found. In Lewis Dunk, Brighton have one of the most solid defenders in the Premier League who would slot into most first team centre back pairings on merit, Webster looks a promising defender and that’s not to forget returning Ben White – a Championship winner with Leeds – who looks set to remain at the club. If Brighton keep hold of their assets and find a star who will add goals to the set up, they look in a very good place to make their ascent up the table. Could new boy Adam Lallana already be that man? Time will tell. One things for certain, the new home kit is divine.
16th West Ham Well that was close. West Ham have had another fairly shambolic season, due in no small part to seemingly have no idea what their best team, formation or style of play is. There are some highlights amidst the mediocrity – Declan Rice is turning into a calm, combative competitor who looks well suited to this level. Fabianski, once again, was standout in goal. Noble looks as complete-a-player as he did 5 years ago, if not better, and at 33 it must be a scary thought for West Ham fans that their captain is nearing the end of his career. Moyes either needs serious backing in the transfer market or a miracle if he’s expected to turn the mess around. I say mess, because in reality – with the money the hammers have paid for players, their stadium and their fanbase – they are so far behind where they should be. Hopefully the new signings will settle down as Soucek has done since joining in January – the big Czech midfielder has taken to the Premier League like a duck to water and is hopefully a sign of things to come from the transfer department of the East London side.
17th Aston Villa There’s a lot that can be said about Aston Villa this season. After bringing in 9 players in from a number of leagues in the summer, they’d bulked the squad up with players who had either Championship or International reputation – but little Premier League experience. The towering Brazillian striker Wesley looked a lynchpin of the team – his hold up play, speed and finishing were attributes Villa hadn’t had since the days of ‘in form’ Benteke and at 22 he looks every bit the player who can, in time, develop into a serious striker. After a cruel injury ruled him out for most of the season however, it was Jack Grealish – the Birmingham boy – who lead his team out of the doldrums with some influential performances and match winning goals, not least the strike that earned Villa the point that was enough to keep them in the English top flight for another year. With a fit John McGinn and Trezeguet, Villa’s team isn’t as far away from being ‘complete’ as some might think. Defensive re-enforcements are needed in the summer window and keeping Grealish is a must if Villa aim to move away from the relegation pack. We wait with baited breath on what could be a proper transfer saga, as no doubt Villa fans will too!
18th Bournemouth (Relegated) Goodbye Bournemouth, it’s been great. The Cherries have been a fantastic outfit in the top flight in recent seasons after their unlikely ascent up the English Football League. Eddie Howe deserves as statue, and might yet get one, for his dedication and performances at the club’s fairytale ride. But, as we know all too well, all fairy tales come to an end. Even an epmphatic 3-1 victory over Everton in the final game of the season was not enough to spare them from the drop. An ageing squad and injuries to key players throughout the fragmented campaign cost Bournemouth dearly. Calum Wilson’s inability to maintain his fantastic goalscoring form of the season before put pressure on the side to find goals from elsewhere, and although the raw Daniel Brookes showed signs of bringing them to the party his season long injury did little to help the cause. Loanee Harry Wilson was another one who found himself on the treatment table for too long and at the back the once fortified defensive line looked fragile. Ake, now a relegated figure moving to Manchester City has afforded Bournemouth a £40million lifeline for summer re-investment – but without Howe at the helm. It will be a strange return to the Championship for Bournemouth – they have a fantastic fanbase and strong foundation, if they can keep a few star men and appoint a capable manager, hopefully it won’t be long before they make their return. Thanks Eddie and co, it’s been quite a ride.
19th Watford (Relegated) Firing a manager who had taken you to the Final of an FA Cup in September never sits well, least not replacing him with a former manager who’d had no more success than his successor/ predecessor. Quique Sanchez Flores only lasted three months where Javia Gracia had done two before him. The appointment of Nigel Pearson had all the markings of a master stroke. The results came in fast with Watford taking 15 points from their first 8 games under Pearson, the man who built the Leicester title winning side. A switch in tactics saw Deeney return to scoring form, Doucoure looked back to his destructive best and Ismaila Sarr – who dazzled in the 3-0 win against Liverpool, which ended the eventual Champions hopes at an unbeaten season they had their form back. What then Watford hierarchy were thinking in changing him at the last, only they can know. They’ve sacked a manager who’s navigated the Championship before and in doing so lost any hope of taking points from their last two games, albeit against City and Arsenal. You’d almost feel sorry for Watford – if the the clubs hierarchy had not been entirely to blame.
20th Norwich (Relegated) After a rampant season in the Championship, sauntering to a title and automatic promotion under Daniel Farke, could Norwich – one of the perpetual yoyo teams – evade the drop this time? A resounding, ‘No’. Early season promise with Teemu Pukki taking to the Premier League in the same way he dominated the Championship goalscoring charts saw Norwich take their first few scalps. However, the goals dried up. The performances of Todd Cantwell were a silver lining, with the young English midfielder looking every bit the creative force that will at some stage earn the Canaries a pretty profit. At the other end of the pitch, Ben Godfrey looks a really talented centre back with pace, power and a good football brain. If they can keep those two and the full-backs Aarons and Lewis, get Pukki back to firing in the league and keep faith in their manager – they should easily make a swift return to the English top flight. But then again, we’ve all heard that before…