As the premier league season draws to a close we have once again been served up many talking points. Although the race for the title has been one of the most one sided in recent memory, race for top four and the battle stay up have included more teams than usual. Liverpool, Tottenham and Southampton all challenged for the top four, whilst even now 13th placed West Brom are not even safe. Moreover, we have seen Newcastle fall, Crystal Palace climb to mid-table, Everton suffer from the Europe League, Garry Monk has staked his claim as a top manager and Koeman is seemingly on the verge of taking Southampton into Europe (albeit not the Champions League).
This year Mourinho once again proved why he is a tactical magician, Chelsea’s recent draw with Arsenal testifying to this. For the first half of the season, however we did we see Chelsea play free flowing attacking football. As we entered the second half of the season, Chelsea reverted to “Mourinho ball”- solid defending and counter attacks. Although it’s much maligned and called boring, it wins trophies. Both Arsenal and Man U struggled at the beginning of the season, Sanchez winning Arsenal’s games whilst Van Gaal learnt his squad might not be ready for 3 at the back yet. The latter half of the season though has seen an improvement in both teams play. Arsenal have returned to playing the best football in the country with Giroud, Cazorla and Ozil all returning to help Sanchez push Arsenal to another FA cup final. Both Arsenal and Man U will need reinforcements; Man U have seem to need a new striker (Falcao hasn’t worked), and a few defenders. As per every season Arsenal need a holding midfielder, although special mention has to be given to Francis Coquelin who has been essential to Arsneal’s run of form.
The remaining team in the top four, Man City, have had a serious fall from grace; title winners last year, fighting for fourth place this. January 1st, they were level with Chelsea, they now sit with Arsenal and Man U whilst having a manager fighting for his job and a squad in desperate need of freshening up. Now City will be probably keep hold of the last top four spot, but Southampton, Liverpool and Spurs to a lesser extent all proved capable challengers. Both Liverpool and Southampton lacked a reliable and top quality striker. Sterling and Coutinho occasionally showed quality. Moreover, out of Liverpool’s raft of summer signings only Can has really impressed. Unlike Southampton and Liverpool, Spurs have had a goal scoring striker- Harry Kane. Kane has arguably taken Spurs to 6th on his own. Under Pochettino Spurs seem to be a very fit and high intensity team, something which has maybe fallen off as late. However, Tottenham need added quality to support Kane and Eriksen and push for a top four spot next year.
From the 8th-12th Swansea have arguably been the pick of the bunch. Monk has been excellent and is the face of a very well run club. Although they lost their star man in Bony, the squad seems to buy into Monk’s coaching. With some added quality throughout the spine of the team I could see Monk taking Swansea to Europe. Everton have struggled with the Europa League and it seems to have effected them badly. They spent big on Lukaku, who hasn’t really proven the £28million fee. Barkley has had an average season for a player of his talent, John Stones on the other hand has been very good. Stoke have improved and look to have shaken their much maligned boring style of play. The signing of Bojan has added a creative flair to their attack. Moreover, Shawcross has had another impressive season and has been unlucky to be called up.
West Ham have a squad capable of playing in Europe and a top draw manager. Cresswell, Sakho and Valencia have been superb signings (Liverpool might want to ask for some tips) and the loan of Alex Song was the icing on the cake. Every week, however it seems another manager is being linked to the job. If they do replace ‘Big Sam’ I’m not sure if they’ll be opening their stadium in the championship or the Premier League. Whilst West Ham are doubting their manager, Crystal Palace have experienced a renaissance under Pardew. Murray, Bolasie, Zaha and Puncheon all seem revitalised. Pardew has gained 25 points from 14 games and has steered Palace from a relegation battle to a solid 12th. After experiencing a turgid time at Newcastle it finally seems Pardew has the whole fan base behind him, things are looking good for both him and Palace, unlike Newcastle at the moment.
The relegation battle has arguably been the most entertaining aspect of the whole season. Even West Brom are not safe just yet, although it is unlikely they’ll go down. Brought in to replace Alan Irvine, Tony Pulis seems to have worked his magic again. Berahino, however has played a huge role in keeping West Brom up. The young striker seems to have set himself up for a move in the summer amid reports he’s fallen out with players and staff members. Special mention must also be given to striker Brown Ideye, who after failing to move to away in January has chipped in with key goals for West Brom. If Pulis stays in the job until the start of next season the Albion should be in safe hands. Hull, who snatched a valuable three points against Liverpool, seem to be suffering from the infamous ‘second season syndrome’. Steve Bruce has found it hard to find goals in his team. Jelavic, N’doye, Aluko, Hernandez and Sagbo have failed to score enough, all amounting to only 32 goals- 4th worst in the league. With Arsenal, Burnley, Tottenham and Man U in Hull’s final run in, it’s going to be hard, but 37 points might just be enough.
Similalarly at Newcastle things seem to be bleak. Although they should survive relegation, since Pardew left they have lost 10 from 15 and only gained 9 points. John Carver was appointed as the interim manager, but he seems to just another commodity in the Mike Ashley business model. It seems the fans have moved their anger from Pardew to the man at the top. The players seem to be struggling for confidence and John Carver seems to breaking under pressure. Cabella has underperformed, Perez has shown promise, De Jong has only just returned from injury. Whoever takes the Newcastle job is going to need some good signings and a hell of a lot of support, the club seems to be on a slippery slope.
Of the newly promoted teams, Leicester have shown the most promise. Nigel Parsons has manufactured a good footballing team and have often been unlucky to win games. The highpoint of the season being the win against Man U, the loan of Huth was inspired and Schmeichel seems to be a very capable goalie. Moreover, if there was an ‘old player of the year’ Esteban Cambiasso would surely win it. Burnley reflect their manager on the pitch, industrious, energetic and hardworking. Danny Ings has struggled to score more goals and Ashley Barnes has been greatly missed. Trippier has had a great season and maybe a bit unlucky not to have received an England call up. QPR unlike the other two promoted sides are the most talented. Fer, Vargas, Green, Zamora, Austin and Yun have all shown flashes. Although Ramsey was brought in to replace Redknapp QPR’s fortunes haven’t really changed and now sit second from bottom with the leakiest defence in the league. If there is one positive it would be Charlie Austin who has scored 17 goals and surely won’t be at the club next season- regardless of what league that is.
Sunderland, have had somewhat similar season to last year, except this time they don’t have Guz Poyet to save them. With Advocaat parachuted in to pull Sunderland from the mire, Sunderland’s season seems to be drawing to a negative end. They haven’t played good football and have been punished for bad defending- most notably 8-0 against Southampton. The season’s not over, but with Burnley and Leicester scrapping for points it seems it might a short stay for Advocaat in the premier league.