That’s it. The Premier League has ended for another year and all 20 sides are left to reflect on a season either of success or of what might have been. Indeed, it was a campaign that promised so much, yet for me failed to live up to the hype somewhat. Admittedly it was never going to top last season, nothing probably ever will, but with Pep Guardiola, Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho all taking the hotseat at three of the country’s biggest clubs, it looked as though a fascinating title race would unfold. In the end though it was Conte’s Chelsea who pushed someway ahead of the pack, winning a record 30 league games to claim a fifth Premier League title. All five have been under the captain-ship of John Terry, who bid an emotional farewell to Stamford Bridge on the final day. Tottenham’s exciting squad were their closest challengers, but the North Londoners’ record Premier League points tally of 86 was not enough to reach the summit as they said to goodbye to White Hart Lane after 118 years. A one season stint at Wembley now beckons as they look to finally lift the trophy after two very impressive seasons. There was some success for Spurs though as Harry Kane collected the golden boot for the second year in a row.
As for Guardiola and Mourinho? After winning his first six games on the spin, the Spaniard looked as though he had adapted to life in England brilliantly, but then the cracks started to set in and his Manchester City side began to wobble. After eventually finishing third, Guardiola stated that he would have been sacked had he performed the same as manager of Barcelona or Bayern Munich. A dig at City’s status on the world stage? Perhaps, but unlikely. Mourinho though wasn’t short of a dig throughout the season, as despite going 25 games unbeaten, Manchester United finished comfortably outside the top four in sixth place, which the Portuguese gaffer put down to a fixture pile up caused by winning the EFL Cup and reaching the Europa League final. The price of success, eh?
But perhaps the boss under the most scrutiny was Arsene Wenger, in his 21st consecutive season in charge of Arsenal. Yet we may well have seen the last of the Frenchman in North London, after the FA Cup final at least, as the Gunners failed to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in 21 years as they finished fifth. Wenger’s contract is up this summer, leaving his future incredibly uncertain. One manager’s future who has been decided is Walter Mazzarri, who will leave Watford after just one season in charge in which the team finished 17th. The Hornets will now be looking for a seventh manager in three years.
Mazzarri became the seventh managerial casualty of the season when his departure was announced, a relatively low number compared to recent seasons. However, there are rumours that Claude Puel, Slaven Bilic and Mark Hughes may follow him to the job centre after less than impressive campaigns at Southampton, West Ham and Stoke City respectively. The Saints may have reached an EFL Cup final and finished eighth, but 46 points is their lowest tally in four years, the Hammers failed to adapt to life at the Olympic Stadium and only pulled themselves clear of a relegation battle in the final few weeks of the campaign, whilst the Potters finished outside the top ten for the first time in four years.
We are yet to mention either of the Merseyside clubs, both of whom kicked on from a disappointing last couple of years. Liverpool topped the table for a couple of weeks near the start of the campaign and remained in and around the top four throughout. They often beat teams around them, but defeats to sides nearer the bottom of the table cost them a title challenge, but fourth place in his first full season for Jurgen Klopp is not bad at all – they will play Champions League football next season for the first time in three years. Everton meanwhile finished in seventh, and in truth never looked like going any higher or lower for the majority of the season, shown by the eight point gap above them and 15 point gap below them. Romelu Lukaku is slowly becoming one of the world’s best finishers, but he could be off in the summer in search of Champions League football, as could local lad Ross Barkley.
A year ago, Leicester City were being crowned unthinkable champions of England, but they started this season in poor fashion, leading to the unpopular sacking of Claudio Ranieri in February. Yet, as some people (*cough* me *cough*) suggested, a change did indeed prove to be for the better and caretaker boss Craig Shakespeare led the Foxes to a 12th place finish and a run to the Champions League quarter-finals – further than any other English side this season. Speaking of impressive achievements, Bournemouth, that little club on the South Coast whose stadium holds under 12,000 people, finished a very commendable ninth in only their second ever Premier League season with Eddie Howe’s stock continuing to rise.
Two sides that started well but faded towards the end were West Brom and Burnley. I actually predicted that the Baggies would go down this season, but they stormed out of the blocks, and looked on course to smash their record Premier League points total. Yet after beating Arsenal to reach 43 points in March, they just seemed to well, stop, and picked up only a further two points in their final nine games. What looked like a comfortable, impressive eighth place finish ended up being a tenth place finish that is still their best in four years. Meanwhile, the Clarets looked as though they had learned from the mistakes made in their relegation campaign two years ago, and turned Turf Moor into a fortress, taking points off Chelsea and Liverpool there. Yet with safety secured, they began to slide and ended up in 16th. Despite this they were the only newly promoted club to stay up and will enjoy consecutive top flight seasons for the first time in over 40 years.
Crystal Palace got rid of Alan Pardew in December and replaced him with disgraced ex-England boss Sam Allardyce, who unusually didn’t get off to the best of starts at Selhurst Park, failing to win any of his first five games. Yet Big Sam’s knack of getting teams out of trouble prevailed in the end, as wins over Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea saw Palace survive with a game to go. Swansea changed bosses twice in 2016-17, with Francesco Guidolin and Bob Bradley both unable to drag the Welsh club away from danger. Paul Clement came in in January and started brightly, but it appeared he too wouldn’t be able to do enough to save the Swans. Yet a late season surge saw them retain their Premier League status for a seventh consecutive season.
This was at the expense of Hull City, who looked to have put themselves in control of their own destiny before a devastating loss to already relegated Sunderland in gameweek 36 scuppered their hopes of survival. Marco Silva took over from Mike Phelan at the helm in January, and took 19 points from a possible 27 at home, meaning he is now being targeted by bigger clubs in the close season. It would be a surprise to see him start the Championship season at the KCom in August. Joining Hull in the second tier will be Sunderland and Middlesbrough, both of whom go down without a whimper. David Moyes told the press when he arrived in the North East last summer that he expected a relegation battle, but he barely got a battle as the Black Cats, driven almost single-handedly by Jermain Defoe, finished bottom and 16 points adrift. Moyes would resign 24 hours after the final game of the season. Middlesbrough found a problem scoring goals, indeed golden boot winner Harry Kane scored more than them on his own, and sacked Aitor Karanka too late to give themselves a shot at survival.
So now we are left to wait just under three months until the start of the 2017-18 Premier League campaign. It might not have been thrilling, but 2016-17 certainly wasn’t dull, and there is more analysis to come in the next few days as we reveal the results of your votes for the seasonal awards, and also count down ten things we learnt from the campaign. Stay tuned!