The Premier League’s final day: 16 Conclusions

Date published: Sunday 13th May 2018 4:53

1) It wasn’t quite Sergio Aguero against Queens Park Rangers, but Gabriel Jesus scoring the winning goal in the final second of Manchester City’s league season provided a wonderful end to one of the most outstanding league campaigns in the history of English football.

For the first time ever, a team has won 32 matches in an English top-flight season. For the first time ever, a team has reached triple figures for points in an English top-flight season. Whatever the spend and whatever you perceive to be the weaknesses in this Premier League, those are both astonishing achievements. It is difficult to see either of them being broken for a long time.

For Guardiola, a rare display of unbridled passion as he skipped and jumped his way down the touchline. Manchester City’s manager has regularly been at pains to say that records don’t really matter, only fulfilled potential, but he is aware of the strong message he has sent to the rest of the Premier League’s top six. They will take some stopping next season.

 

2) We may have seen the end of Wayne Rooney in English football. Everton announced in midweek that Rooney would miss their final match of the season due to an injury, but more telling was the admission that his representatives would meet with the club to discuss his immediate future.

That future looks pretty obvious, provided Everton or Rooney can persuade someone to offer him the wage he feels he deserves. DC United are reportedly very keen to make Rooney the latest MLS showpiece signing, so it’s worth checking up on Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s form over the last few games.

Just like Arsene Wenger, it is possible to both appreciate Rooney for what he achieved while also believing that he passed his best-before date in the Premier League long ago. The move to Everton has provoked moments of note, but the norm has been a forward in decline desperately trying to run games from midfield and failing in that task.

Rather than travel to a far-flung destination where he doesn’t really want to be for another pay day that he doesn’t really need, it would surely be better for Rooney to call it a day. There’s nothing quite as tragic as fading class.

 

3) “Marcus and Anthony played against Brighton. Today was for Alexis and Lingard and Sunday is a game for Martial and Rashford,” said Jose Mourinho on Friday afternoon. “I play some players that didn’t play today, I play Romero, I play Daley Blind, I play Eric Bailly, I play Rashford, I play Martial, I play Mata.”

Perhaps Martial picked up an injury on the way into the stadium or even late in training on Saturday, but if that was the case then why did he leave the ground at midday rather than watching the game from the stands?

Even if there is a simple explanation, the suspicion is difficult to shake off. It seems clear that Mourinho is not enamoured with the Frenchman and is prepared to sell him this summer. It’s an odd situation for the club’s second highest league goalscorer. This will be an interesting summer.

 

 

4) On the day that Manchester City became the first ever team to win 32 games in an English top-flight season, it’s only right that we detail their quite ridiculous statistics. And that’s exactly what the boy Matt Stead did.

 

5) If the final day is a chance for managers to give minutes to fringe players who have been ignored for much of the season, Jordan Hugill was an interesting omission from West Ham’s matchday squad to face Everton.

Amongst stiff competition, Hugill might be the worst signing of the season, particularly given that almost everyone predicted it would go exactly like this. The striker has played 22 minutes in the Premier League, and none at all since March.

Hugill is certainly an emblem of this West Ham season, where joined-up thinking is entirely absent. It leads to different arms of the same organisation making decisions in isolation of each other. That is the opposite of leadership.

 

6) “You wanted him out, you wanted him out,” chanted the Huddersfield Town fans at their counterparts in the away end. “You two-faced bastards, you wanted him out.”

Whether they actually mean it or not, the cutting – and incredibly Northern – nature of that chant makes it my favourite of the season. Until…

“Herbert Chapman, he left ‘cos you’re shit.”

The response from the Arsenal fans completed some absolutely two-footed zinging. Well done to all, give them their ticket money back.

 

7) And the exceptional banter did not stop there. At the London Stadium, West Ham supporters taunted Everton fans with the ditty: “You’ve got Sam Allardyce”. True, and damning on the man standing on the touchline.

Whatever it is about the last day of the season that brings out the best in football supporters, let’s step up our games every week from August please.

 

 

8) With so little to play for on the final day in terms of league position, Sky Sports tried to manufacture a little interest by posting a graphic in the corner of the screen of the Golden Boot race. Sorry guys, we’re not having that.

At least Harry Kane did his bit. He could probably have done with a rest, given that Tottenham had already confirmed their place in the top four, but given that he has never before scored 30 goals in a league season and felt fit enough to play, Mauricio Pochettino selected him again.

Kane’s second goal took him to that magical number, a phenomenal achievement given the questions about his performances in recent weeks and his struggles with match sharpness in August. Now for Russia.

 

9) But there was no real drama to be found. Mohamed Salah has not looked his sharpest in recent weeks either. His legs look a little heavier than they did in February and March, understandable given his workload this season. Jurgen Klopp will hope to recuperate his star forward over the next fortnight before the European Cup final in Kiev.

Yet it was fitting that Salah would score on the final day, given his dominance over Premier League defences this season. His instinctive finish into the bottom right corner of Mathew Ryan’s goal gave him the outright record for the number of goals scored in a 38-game Premier League season. Considering that Salah arrived as a wide forward who had never before scored more than 15 times in a league season, this has been a truly extraordinary campaign.

Should Salah win Liverpool the Champions League and score enough goals in the World Cup group stage to take Egypt into the knockout stages – hardly an outlandish ambition given their draw – he will merit consideration for the Ballon d’Or. Imagine reading that sentence last summer.

 

10) There is a reason why Michael Carrick is retiring, and it is nothing to do with his diminishing ability to pick a pass.

“There comes a time when, as much as you like or don’t like it, your body tells you it’s time to stop playing football,” he said when announcing that he would step away from the pitch at the end of this season. “That’s pretty much where I’m at, which is fine. It’s something you have to accept. That’s where I’m at.”

Against Watford, Carrick played as if in his own testimonial. He sprayed passes from left to right, front to back and simply from side to side, including the one that produced Manchester United’s winning goal. He remains the statesman of English football’s central midfield, even if he was never truly appreciated enough.

 

 

11) If there was still any doubt that Antonio Conte would be leaving Chelsea at the end of the season, it evaporated on an afternoon of misery. Chelsea and Conte knew that only victory at St James’ Park could put pressure on Liverpool for fourth place, and yet they produced their worst performance of the season.

In the first half, Newcastle had 11 shots while Chelsea failed to have a single one. Which were the team that had nothing to play for? Which were the team supposedly chasing a dream?

I usually hate the idea of clubs refunding away supporters after a dreadful team performance, because I think it sends out a message that fans watch their team in expectation of certain standards rather than simply because they love following them.

But such was the length of trip and wilful dereliction of duty by Chelsea’s players on Sunday, you could make a case. This was a total embarrassment.

 

12) The strangest thing about Chelsea’s display (no, not Ross Barkley starting a Premier League match) was that this has a knock-on effect. Seventeen other clubs in the top flight may have finished their season on Sunday, but Chelsea have an opportunity for part-salvation at Wembley next weekend.

If this was the prelude to the FA Cup final, why did such a strong team play with such limpness? The likes of Barkley, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Emerson Palmieri, Victor Moses and Andreas Christensen were playing for their place at Wembley. It says little good about any of them that they let the opportunity to impress slip so easily from their grasp.

 

13) If this is to be the end of Allardyce at Everton, what could be a more fitting end to his tenure than miserable defeat at his former club and an away end close to mutiny at the abject fare on show? It might be the only time this season that West Ham supporters were not the most disillusioned in the stadium.

Allardyce will presumably purchase another small violin and a chip for his shoulder with the payoff money he gets from Farhad Moshiri. If Everton appoint a foreign manager, we may well see him on beIN Sports in Qatar, moaning about British jobs for British managers. But the truth is that Big Sam was afforded an opportunity at club level that few expected to come his way. Everton was his chance to prove the doubters wrong, and put a few metaphorical noses out of joint as only he can.

Instead, Allardyce has reinforced every stereotype. He is a brilliant manager for a small club looking for survival. There is no shame in that, but neither is there any point being a wolf in a sheepskin manager’s coat. He has managed Everton as if they were a plucky side lucky to have him. The reality is that the vice versa was closer to the truth.

 

14) It hardly admits unforgivable favouritism to have wanted Arsene Wenger to end his Arsenal reign with a victory at Huddersfield. The tributes and farewell messages have been perfectly placed, but ending a 22-year reign with nine straight away league defeats would have cut Wenger to the core.

Thankfully, Huddersfield were willing participants on an afternoon in which celebration of Wenger and Huddersfield’s own survival of relegation were of far more interest than events on the field. Arsenal were poor in the first half but took a lead into half-time, and David Wagner’s team rarely looked particularly bothered about spoiling the occasion.

But Huddersfield did things the right way. They welcomed Wenger onto the pitch before the game, and then rose again in the 22nd minute to salute the longevity and impact of a truly great manager. Wenger will sleep soundly on Sunday evening.

 

15) With Stoke City heading to the Championship and taking a pathetic Swansea City team with them, thoughts turn to possible transfer targets for the Premier League vultures. So here’s a question: Should someone take a chance on Peter Crouch?

He’s now 37, and so the legs are clearly weakening. But Crouch’s game has never been based on pace and he has demonstrated more fight and knowhow than most of his teammates this season. Against Swansea, Crouch scored his fourth goal of the season, but he’s actually been something of a super sub for Stoke.

Worth a pop for a bottom-half club?

 

16) You have to hand it to Claude Puel; the man knows his timing. As it becomes increasingly obvious that the Frenchman will be sacked at the end of this season, Puel gave a nod to the reputation that he believes to be unwarranted.

A preference for dull football is not the only reason that Puel will likely be replaced. At both Leicester and Southampton he has isolated senior players through a training regime that they believe is too physical. Then comes the tinkering with team selection, annoying players who believe that it affects the consistency of performance over a number of games.

But it will still give Puel a wry smile that the allegation is that his team don’t score enough goals, and yet between his appointment and the end of the season only the top six scored more goals than his Leicester side.

Daniel Storey

 


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