So baring the re-arranged Man Utd v Bournemouth fixture, another Premier League campaign bites the dust.
To say it’s been epic would be an understatement. Sure some will say the actual quality has been lacking but I think that can only be aimed at the so called big guns. Most other clubs have improved greatly and played decent football, so is it a case of the big guns just playing the same while so called smaller clubs improve and show less fear? I actually think it is and I believe we’ll keep seeing new members of the top 4 appearing almost every season going forward.
Leicester winning the title will change sport as whole, not just football. This might sound dramatic but whenever an individual or a team are struggling or thrown to the scrap heap they will be reminded of the Leicester story and how a bunch of bargain basement and rejected players collectively pushed each other to heights they didn’t know existed. Teenagers released by clubs will think of the Jamie Vardy story and not give up on their dreams. Players in their 30’s being told they are past it will think of Wes Morgan and Robert Huth. Established pro’s who are released by big clubs will remain positive and think of Danny Drinkwater and how he became a 10 times better player away from Manchester Utd. Managers will be inspired by Claudio Ranieri and how he truly concentrated on creating a “TEAM” in which each and every squad player knew their role and didn’t deviate.
I believe if Ranieri can convince this team to stay together then there is no reason why they can’t be pushing for a top 4 place again next year and actually perform respectively in the Champions League next season. I think Leicester are still vastly underrated despite winning the title by 10 points. They have been amazing and their story will be told for generations to come.
Others that showed great progress are Spurs, West Ham and Southampton.
Spurs capitulated after the 2-2 draw at Chelsea which ended their title hopes but that shouldn’t detract from the fact that they were in the title race almost to the end and played some fantastic football along the way. They have a top class manager in Pochettino and some of the most exciting players in the Premier league. Harry Kane and Dele Alli were brilliant along with Moussa Dembele and Erik Dier. If fact you could go through most of the Spurs team and give praise for an outstanding season.
West Ham were a bit up and down at the end but maybe the emotion of leaving the Boelyn ground caught up with them but they still had a shout of a champions league spot towards the last few games which shows they had a season to be proud of and they also played some very attractive football. Dimitri Payet was outstanding and made a mockery of his 10m transfer fee. He deservedly got back in the French squad and is a player I look forward to watching in the Euros.
Southampton came up the league like a bat out of hell after Christmas. Everyone knew they had some good players but before Christmas they were struggling. Since then only the Champions have better form and if the season was another 6 games they could well have finished in the top 4. If they can keep hold of Ronald Koeman as manager then they could well be one of those so called smaller clubs pushing for a top 4 place over the next couple of seasons.
So what of the “Big Guns”? Arsenal, Liverpool, Man Utd, Man City and Chelsea.
Arsenal achieved their highest finish since 2005 so can it be classed as a successful season? Most say no as they believe the title was there for the taking but I disagree with that as I see Leicester as an outstanding side who are worthy champions. Would Arsenal have been closer to them if Wenger had signed some outfield players in the summer transfer window? Maybe but they would had to have been of a different make up to the usual suspects Wenger goes for (Sanchez aside) who are pretty to watch but ultimately don’t have the fight to win titles. Wenger has to change the characteristics of the players he signs otherwise I don’t see them winning a title for a long time.
Jurgen Klopp has definitely improved Liverpool and got certain players to finally look the part but lets not kid ourselves that an eighth place finish is anywhere near good enough. The Europa League became a priority but that is still no excuse for such a poor placed finish. Having said that I believe Klopp is the best thing to happen to Liverpool for a long long time and with a few signings this summer I see them challenging for the title over the coming seasons.
Louis Van Gaal has taken some stick this season due to his rigid style of play but if they win the re-arranged game against Bournemouth and triumph in the FA Cup Final against Palace they could end the season with a 5th place finish and a trophy which might appease some fans. I have the feeling the Utd board do not want to change the manager again so if LVG can get his hands on the FA Cup I see him still being in the managers seat next season. Do I see them as title challengers? No, the fear factor has gone from Old Trafford and might not return for a long time. Since Ferguson’s departure they have signed some big name players but they still haven’t challenged for the big honors as teams don’t fear them anymore. It could be a good few years before they are champions again.
With regard to Manchester City, I actually disagree with a lot of the pundits who blame the club and Pep guardiola for the clubs poor form following the announcement in February that Manuel Pelligrini would be leaving the club in the summer. Pelligrini has won a title and a couple of cups in his time there but I look at some of the signings he’s made and he has to take some of the blame for his team not really challenging for the title 2 seasons running. The 2 center halves he signed, Mangala and Otamendi for a combined 70m pounds beggars belief. You then add in Fenando and Fernandinho and you have 120m pounds spent on pretty much run of the mill players. I think Rahim Sterling has talent but following his 49m move from Liverpool you can’t really say he has been a success can you? Despite that City still have a few match winners in Aguero and De Bruyne so under Pep, City will be close to the title next season.
As for Chelsea? What a disastrous campaign. The worst defense of the title in Premier League history. What went wrong? Obviously the players stopped playing for Mourinho which resulted in his sacking in November. Gus Hiddink returning to the hot seat did see them become harder to beat but they were still a million miles from the team who strolled to the title the previous season. Antonio Conte will come in in July and stamp his mark straight away. Some will be off loaded and I’m sure he’ll make some signings, although with no European football next season it could make his effort to attract the really big names very difficult indeed. I still expect them to be title contenders next season.
Of the relegated teams I can see all 3 challenging to come straight back up.
If Newcastle had sacked Steve McLaren and got Benitez in earlier they would have stayed up. Toon went the last 6 games unbeaten and will be desperate to persuade Rafa to stay on and hope it’s just one campaign in the Championship.
Aston Villa were awful and their fans will be fearful of them becoming another Leeds Utd and never getting back up but a club of Villa’s size and stature will still be able to attract the quality of player they need for life in the Championship so I do see them returning sooner rather than later.
Norwich are a Premier League YoYo club so will keep a good nucleus of the squad that played this season and will more than likely make at least the play offs next season in the Championship.
Leicester becoming champions has been the greatest story in Premier League history and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching them. They made sure that the 2015/2016 season is one that will never ever be forgotten.