Once again, it ends. Once again, footie leaves us just as things were getting good. Whether your team ended up hoisting a title, winning a cup, surviving relegation or just beating that rival of old, the roller coaster ride that is the Premier League is over and we head into the summer with visions of rest and relaxation in our heads. I needs me a break after that insanity! So with that said, let’s look back at my predictions from last August, assess what happened and give a verdict to every team before suggesting what they need to look at in this summer’s transfer window.
Arsenal. Prediction: Title Contenders. Final Standing: 5th; FA Cup Winners. There’s going to be a chance to speak in greater detail about Arsenal for me. Suffice it to say that the FA Cup salves some but not all the wounds the Gunners caused this season. For a side that was in the race up until mid-January, their February-April collapse was something epic. Losing to Chelsea and Liverpool are one thing, but the capitulations against West Brom and Crystal Palace will not leave the memory for a while. That they were even within sight of the top four speaks more to the flaws in other sides than the Gunners’ ability to right the ship. Even the bright spots, like the dominance of Alexis Sanchez or the rise of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, came with caveats: specifically, their contract situations. But no contract issue loomed as large as Arsene Wenger’s and, with summer finally here, there’s no putting it off. Europa League awaits next season.
Verdict: A disappointing mess which got slightly better with another FA Cup triumph.
Transfer Suggestion: Can they finally find the striker that will score the goals to take Arsenal to the top?
AFC Bournemouth. Prediction: Relegation Fighters. Final Standing: 9th. They didn’t record their first victory until Matchday 4. And they spent much of the season trading wins and losses — their epic 4-3 comeback against Liverpool followed by a 3-2 loss to Burnley. But then they turned it on in March and lost only twice — to Chelsea and Tottenham — while recording 5 crucial wins down the final stretch. Led by Joshua King’s 16 goals, the Cherries managed to record 31 of their 46 points at home and ended up in a more comfortable position this year than they did last year. Just as importantly, they got 6 key draws away from the Dean Court. In the end, they benefited from a tight relegation fight down below them, but that should not fool them into thinking things could not be switched around next year.
Verdict: An improvement on last season.
Transfer Suggestion: Rumors abound of Jermain Defoe’s upcoming arrival. He’d be a solid addition.
Burnley. Prediction: Relegation Fighters. Final Standing: 16th. Well, the defense gave up more goals than last year’s 35 in the Championship. Not surprising as the Clarets were second in the league in saves — 151 total — meaning teams were getting chances against them. And Vokes and Gray led the team with 19 goals combined. But life in the Premier League proved as arduous as everyone expected for the Clarets and Sean Dyche had to get his team to scrap for every one of the 40 points that saw them keep their top flight status. Turf Moor at least provided 10 of their 11 wins. Good thing too as they were abysmal away — recording only 1 win and 4 draws against 14 defeats. They will now try to fight to keep players like Michael Keane from departing Turf Moor.
Verdict: A poor away season that nearly took them down.
Transfer Suggestion: Someone who can help create more goals.
Chelsea. Prediction: Top Four Contenders. Final Standing: 1st (CHAMPIONS); FA Cup Finalist. 24 September 2016. Arsenal 3 – Chelsea 0. People remember that match because it was the last match before new boss Antonio Conte would switch his side to a 3-4-3 system that he was more comfortable with. They went on a 13-wins run after that saw them vault to the head of the pack — a position they never relinquished. Spurred on by Diego Costa’s 20 goals and 7 assists, Eden Hazard’s 16 goals, Pedro’s 9 goals and 9 assists and Cesc Fabregas’ 12 assists, the Blues had the second-best scoring attack this season (85 goals). They also had the second-best defense in the league (33 goals conceded). All of which helped the Blues run away with the Premier League; winning the most matches of any club this season with 30. Conte opted to play his way and no one could hang with them.
Verdict: A return to form sees the Blues return the title to Stamford Bridge.
Transfer Suggestion: Hang onto Hazard when Real come for him.
Crystal Palace. Prediction: Midtable Comfort. Final Standing: 14th. They may have saved themselves, but for a while the Super Eagles were staring relegation in the face. With only 4 wins to his name by the time he got fired, Alan Pardew’s side hung barely above the drop zone. In came, Sam Allardyce and he helped steady the ship racking up key wins down the stretch — including at Liverpool and against Arsenal. Led by Christian Benteke’s 15 goals and Wilfied Zaha’s 7 goals and 9 assists, Big Sam got enough points to ensure Palace survived for another year in the top flight. They still finished tied for 3rd with the most losses in the league this season (21). With his departure, the Eagles enter a period of uncertainty as they need a new boss to take this team and ensure they don’t slip into another relegation battle again.
Verdict: A scary ride that nearly took them down.
Transfer Suggestion: More defensive help to help cut down on 63 goals.
Everton. Prediction: Midtable Comfort. Final Standing: 7th. For a while there, the Toffees looked like they were going to compete with the other big boys for the top four spots. They were taking points off Tottenham and beating Arsenal and Man Utd convincingly. Romelu Lukaku was chasing Harry Kane for the Golden Boot. Ross Barkley looked like the next great English midfielder. So how come they ended up comfortably in 7th and not higher? Their away record was poor. 4 wins versus 6 draws and 9 defeats (Compare that to their 13-4-2 record at Goodison Park). The loss of Seamus Coleman hurt deeply. The season sputtered to its end — Everton won only 3 of their matches in April and May — and rumors of feuding between Barkley and boss Ronald Koeman over Barkley’s unwillingness to sign a new deal will not augur well for the summer.
Verdict: Right where expected even if the chance for more was there.
Transfer Suggestion: Keep Lukaku and Barkley. It all starts there.
Hull City. Prediction: Relegation Fighters. Final Standing: 18th (RELEGATED). Things started bad when Steve Bruce walked off the job a month before the season started. Mike Phelan got the job, first as interim, then as permanent manager when no one else took it. And for the first two weeks, it looked as if things would turn out OK when they beat Leicester and Swansea. Things turned sour quickly though and Phelan managed only one more win until he was replaced by Marco Silva. Though the Portuguese manager won his first four games across three competitions, the task of keepin the Tigers up proved too much. Conceding a league-worst 80 goals hurt deeply. Having no one score more than 4 goals for the entire campaign — Abel Hernandez and Oumar Niasse — hurt. Silva leaves for Watford now and Hull City have to reassess for life in the Championship once again.
Verdict: A disaster from start to finish.
Transfer Suggestion: Anyone who can help cut on 80 goals conceded.
Leicester City. Prediction: Top Four Contenders. Final Standing: 12th. A comedown was to be expected but I don’t think anyone suspected the hangover from winning the Premier League would be this bad. The defense that surrendered 36 goals in 2015-16 gave up 63 this time around. The team that lost only 3 times — and only once at home — in 2015-16 lost 18 games overall in this season, including 5 times at home. Jaime Vardy managed only 13 goals while Riyad Mahrez slipped to only 6 goals and 3 assists, when the year prior Vardy had 24 goals and Mahrez had 17 goals and 11 assists. New players like Islam Slimani and Ahmed Musa struggled and no one was able to fill the N’Golo Kante’ shaped hole in midfield. The rumors of player unrest against Claudio Ranieri eventually cost the Italian manager his job and how they picked 5 wins in a row after his firing cast more aspersions on the team. Despite a good run in the Champions League, the Foxes did not make anyone think that 2015-16 was anything but a miracle.
Verdict: The dream ended and everyone woke up.
Transfer Suggestion: Unless they can buy Kante’ back, how about someone like him?
Liverpool. Prediction: Top Four Contenders. Final Standing: 4th. Freed from any European obligations, the Reds had one goal: challenge for the top. At times, they even looked the part — beating Arsenal twice, Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham this year. In fact, they didn’t lose to any of the top 7 around them, winning or drawing all of those 12 matches. Led by Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho, who put in 13, 13 and 11 goals respectively and Georginio Wijnaldum’s 9 assists, Jurgen Klopp’s men looked capable of beating anyone at any time. They created the second-most shots this season (640) and were the second-most passing team in the league. So why did they barely scrape into that 4th place? Losses to Burnley, Bournemouth, Hull City, Leicester and Crystal Palace among a series of dropped points to the also-rans in the league. Liverpool were careless against teams they should have beaten and it nearly cost them. A more surgical mindset is necessary for next season.
Verdict: Job done but barely.
Transfer Suggestion: Some more defensive steel to go with their attacking nous.
Manchester City. Prediction: Title Contenders. Final Standing: 3rd. The Arrival of Pep didn’t really provide the sizzle that people expected at the Etihad. Sure, there were stories a plenty — shipping out Joe Hart and starting Claudio “What is he doing??” Bravo for one. But not everything came together as expected. Sergio Aguero knocked in 20 goals and Kevin De Bruyne provided a league-leading 18 assists. However, injury kept Leroy Sane’ and Ilkay Gundogan from contributing more. And with a defense that kept being shifted, things never seemed to click. Somehow the Citizens managed to come second in the league in home draws — everyone from Everton and Southampton to Boro and Stoke left Etihad with something. They were a great team in moving the ball around and creating chances — leading the league in passes and hitting the woodwork 20 times. But they will need to bury more of those chances in order to turn draws into wins. Pep is expected to have City where winning trophies. The outlay in cash and reputation means the pressure will be on the Spaniard next year.
Verdict: A solid first season
Transfer Verdict: Defenders. World-class defenders.
Manchester United. Prediction: Title Contenders. Final Standing: 6th; Europa League Winners, EFL Cup Winners. Any talk of United’s season must start with the number 15. That’s the number of draws they picked up this year. It’s 2 off the mark set by Newcastle and Aston Villa twice. It’s why, despite not losing a match for months of the season, United could barely get out of that 6th place spot. They did tie Sheffield Wednesday and Leicester City’s mark of 10 for most home draws in a season — winning only 8 matches at the “Theater of Dreams.” It will go unrecognized, but United did manage to have the second best defense in the league, conceding only 29 goals. Much of their problem came when Zlatan Ibrahimovic went down in April. Without him, the rest of the team had trouble scoring — he still led them with 17 goals. They didn’t score away from home against their top rivals and somehow managed to score less than Everton’s 61 goals or AFC Bournemouth’s 55 goals (United had 54). Winning Europa League got them back into the Champions League, but another summer spending spree will be necessary to avoid getting dumped out. Injuries hurt but poor performances won’t be tolerated again.
Verdict: A season that never seemed to get right still ended well.
Transfer Verdict: Find the top striker available out there and sign him. Money is no object.
Middlesbrough. Prediction: Relegation Fighters. Final Standing: 19th (RELEGATED). Let’s start with the bright side of things for Boro: They had a decent defense. Their 53 goals allowed was better than 8 of the teams that survived this season in the top flight. It’s a way better mark than their fellow-relegated teams. They even led the league in tackles (727). So how could they drop when others let anywhere from 10 to 17 goals more? That’s the bad side: their league-worst 27 goals scored. A third of them came from Alvaro Negredo but no one got anywhere near that much. And without a win in 2017, Aitor Karanka was shown the door. Boro won only 1 match afterwards while getting beaten handily by the likes of Man Utd, Hull, Bournemouth, Chelsea and Liverpool, ensuring their Premier League stay was a short one. If only they could have turned some of their 13 draws into wins, they might still be the in the Premier League. Instead, it’s back to the Championship to build a new challenger.
Verdict: A tame attack doomed them.
Transfer Verdict: Build a team that can break down better defenses.
Southampton. Prediction: Midtable Comfort. Final Standing: 8th, EFL Cup Finalist. At first glance, it feels as if the Saints managed the same kind of season they normally have. They beat teams that were lower down the table and were beaten by teams above them. They advanced in the League Cup to the final but lost to a better team. Look closer and you might see some of the threads fraying at the edges. In years’ past, St Mary’s Stadium could be counted as a place of terror for visitors and a strength for the Saints. This season? 6-6-7. Their 41 goals scored was their lowest tally since they returned to the Premier League in 2012. Losing to Hull, Palace, West Brom, Burnley, West Ham and Stoke was not indicative of progress under Claude Puel. And as summer starts, stories begin of another raid on the south coast as Virgil van Dijk is sought by teams like Manchester United. How long can it hold?
Verdict: A slip in form that will worry supporters.
Transfer Suggestion: If they cannot keep van Dijk or Rodriguez, buy. Buy as much talent as you can.
Stoke City. Prediction: Midtable Comfort. Final Standing: 13th. Once upon a time, the Potters were known for their tough defense and tenacious playing style. This year they allowed Man City, Tottenham twice, Crystal Palace, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal each to score 4 goals in a game. That’s 28 out of their 56 goals conceded. Meanwhile, the former attacking luminaries were nowhere near their best this year, as Peter Crouch led them with 7 goals with Joe Allen scoring 6 and Marko Arnautovic had 6 goals and 5 assists. Despite all this, keeper Lee Grant was a top 10 keeper in saves (90) and clean sheets (9). Maybe Mark Hughes needs one more summer to finish transforming the Potters but another season like this and they might not give him the chance. They’re riding their luck that teams will be worse below them.
Verdict: Caught in between not being good enough in attack or defense.
Transfer Suggestion: Someone who can help create goals.
Sunderland. Prediction: Relegation Fighters. Final Standing: 20th (RELEGATED). It finally happened. After years of flirting with relegation only to find a way to pull themselves out of the fire, the Black Cats finally fell through the trap door. Not recording their first win until November hurt. They had the worst away record — only 1 win and 15 draws — and the second-worst home record of the season. Just about everyone beat the Black Cats this season. They were so bad that they were relegated with four matches to go. Jermain Defoe tried to keep them up, but his 15 goals (out of 29 total for the team) were not enough — the next higher scorer was Victor Anichebe with 3 goals. Good thing they had young Jordan Pickford making saves for them. Sunderland led the league with 176 saves made — a mark that highlights how good Pickford was and how bad his defense hung him. Their profligacy forced David Moyes to resign in ignominy as Sunderland begins to pick up the pieces and tries to build for life in the Championship — without Defoe.
Verdict: It felt like it has been coming but it still stings to see them go.
Transfer Verdict: Someone who can take over for Defoe in the scoring department.
Swansea City. Prediction: Midtable Comfort. Position: 15th. It was touch and go there for the Swans there for a while. With just 3 wins in the 2016 half of the season, they were staring at relegation. The replacing of Francesco Guidolin with Bob Bradley had not produced the hoped-for response. In came Paul Clement and he got three times as many wins out of the remaining 19 matches, beating the likes of Liverpool and Everton to claw out of the relegation battle. No team stayed up in the Premier League and gave up more goals — 70 in total. Led by Fernando Llorente’s 15 goals and Gylfi Sigurdsson’s 9 goals and 13 assists, the Swans were able to battle and regain some semblance of their old form, even if they did manage to lose to the likes of Hull and Bournemouth and West Ham. Finishing tied for third-most losses this year with Palace at 21 is not a good mark. Now they gotta find a way to keep Sigurdsson and build around him.
Verdict: A scary first half that was saved by a scrappy second.
Transfer Suggestion: More defensive help to cut on those 70 goals conceded.
Tottenham Hotspur. Prediction: Title Contenders. Final Standing: 2nd. The top scoring attack (86 goals). The best defense in the league (26 conceded). The Golden Boot winner (Harry Kane with 29 goals). The second-best assist maker (Christian Eriksen with 15). The second-best keeper in the league (Hugo Lloris with 15 clean sheets). The best home record in the League (17 wins, 2 draws, 0 losses). The fewest losses in the league (only 4). How did they not win the league? For one, two of those 4 losses were to Chelsea, the eventual champs. For two, the eight draws they picked up — ranging from Everton and Man City to Sunderland — took vital points away. Basically, the title was decided from October 15 through November 6, when Spurs picked up 4 draws in a row to West Brom, Bournemouth, Leicester and Arsenal. Not winning the title shouldn’t deter Tottenham from what’s been their best season in the Premier League ever.
Verdict: Their best accomplishments nearly had them celebrating in May.
Transfer Suggestion: Keep the party together. Kane, Erikssen, Lloris and Alli will all be targets of others.
Watford. Prediction: Relegation Fighters. Final Standing: 17th. Somehow Walter Mazzarri kept his job until the end of the season. Was it because they beat the likes of Man Utd, Leicester, Everton and Arsenal? They closed the season out on a six-game losing streak and led the league with 84 yellow cards and tied for top with 5 red cards and 5 own goals — stats you do not want to lead the league. Their form away from Vicarage Road was poor — 13 losses vs 3 wins. And this doesn’t even take into account that former striker Odion Ighalo was on a poor run of form — 1 league goal — before he was sold to a Chinese club. If it wasn’t for Troy Deeney and Etienne Capoue, the Hornets could have easily found themselves in the Championship next season. Former Hull boss Marco Silva takes over for Mazzarri and it’s going to be up to him to build discipline and cohesion into this team. Or another relegation fight might beckon.
Verdict: Escape artists this year.
Transfer Suggestion: Another scorer who can help them improve on that -28 goal differential.
West Bromwich Albion. Prediction: Midtable Comfort. Final Standing: 10th. The Baggies continued to follow the teachings of boss Tony Pulis — tough at home and desperate on the road. Winning 9 of their 12 at The Hawthorns but only 3 at other stadiums around the UK. Their road woes started against Crystal Palace and saw them drop points against Bournemouth, Sunderland, Hull, Everton, Watford and Swansea. At least they had a great win against Arsenal and had some scrappy draws against Man Utd and Tottenham. They weren’t the most attacking team, nabbing only 43 goals — 8 of which came from Salomon Rondon — but Ben Foster and his defense kept them in matches. Along the way they managed to scoop up 80 yellow cards, second most this season. There’s a fine line between surviving and thriving in the Premier League. If teams around them get better, West Brom may find themselves fighting for their lives.
Verdict: Job done but should not rest on their laurels.
Transfer Suggestion: A goal creator would be nice — someone who can manage more than 5 assists a season.
West Ham United. Prediction: Top Four Contenders. Final Standing: 11th. What happened, Hammers? Moving into the Olympic Stadium, splashing some cash and keeping Payet were all seen as signs that West Ham was ready to challenge for the top. Instead, the Hammers spent the year oscillating between poor and capable. On one hand, they gave 4 goals to Watford and West Brom. On the other, they were beating Southampton and Tottenahm. In fact, those were their only two victories against the top 8 — they also picked up draws against Man Utd, Liverpool and Everton. The Olympic Stadium was no Boleyn Ground — dropping 8 matches and conceding 31 goals there. Things were even worse on the road. And the situation with Payet devolved until the talisman was sold to Marseille. Luckily for them, new boy Manuel Lanzini stepped up to score 8 goals while Michail Antonio led them with 9. Manager Slaven Bilic seems to be safe for the moment but don’t think his leash is long.
Verdict: A disappointing tumble back down the table.
Transfer Suggestion: A forward that can score more than 7 goals a season.
Let me end with a few awards and my Team of the Season (3-4-3):
Player of the Year: N’Golo Kante’, Chelsea
Manager of the Year: Mauricio Pocchetino, Tottenham
Goal of the Year: Olivier Giroud’s scorpion kick
Flop of the Year: Odion Ighalo, Watford/Dimitri Payet, West Ham
Buy of the Year: Sadio Mane’, Liverpool
Team of the Year
GK: David De Gea, Manchester United
D: Cesar Azpilicueta, Chelsea; Toby Alderweireld, Tottenham; Gary Cahill, Chelsea;
M: Kevin DeBruyne, Manchester City; Christian Eriksen, Tottenham; N’Golo Kante’, Chelsea, Eden Hazard, Chelsea
F: Romelu Lukaku, Everton; Harry Kane, Tottenham; Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal
Substitutes: Thibaut Courtois, Chelsea; Kyle Walker, Tottenham; Virgil van Dijk, Southampton; Dele Alli, Tottenham; Gylfi Sigurdsson, Swansea; Sergio Aguero, Manchester City; Diego Costa, Chelsea
So with that all said, let the summer silly season commence. We all need a break, right? There will be a Confederations Cup in Russia in June-July. A CONCACAF Gold Cup in July also. And of course, all the transfer drama that supporters crave and dread. That said, at least