10) West Ham United
Logic suggested that they would be slightly worse – second season under a new manager, first season in a new stadium – but should they really have been this gut-wrenchingly awful? Should they really have been 18 goals and 17 points worse after a summer when they did not lose any of their star players? Should they have plummeted from a place above Liverpool to a position below West Brom? God no x 3.
The Hammers brought in 12 new players last summer either permanently or on loan and the return from these largely attacking purchases has been ten Premier League goals. Ten. And Dimitri Payet still has twice as many assists as any West Ham player and he played less than half a season (at half pace). It’s been a disaster.
9) Jack Wilshere
Oh Jack. A loan spell at Bournemouth was supposed to make Arsene Wenger realised that he – to paraphrase the wonderful Real Thing – couldn’t get by without him. Or at least make him a viable proposition for a club further up the food chain. Instead, all we have learned about Wilshere is that Bournemouth are better without him.
It all started quite positively, with Wilshere enabling those around him to play more expansive football, despite struggling to make an impact on the scoresheet. But soon it became obvious that the Cherries’ brand of possession football – with Wilshere in a No. 10 role – was becoming far too easy to combat; he has not actually started and won a Premier League game with Bournemouth in 2017.
8) John Stones
“John Stones has more personality than all of us here together in this room. More balls than everyone here. I like that. I love him. Under pressure, the people criticise him, so I am delighted to have John. With all his huge amount of mistakes. I love him. I love guys with this personality.”
Everybody focused on the “balls” part of that outburst from Pep Guardiola because, well, who doesn’t want to hear a football manager talk about testicles? But the key sentence is really the one about Stones’ “huge amount of mistakes”. For all the gushing talk of his personality, Manchester City did not spend £50m on a personality, they spent £50m on a defender. And he simply has not been good enough at defending. We really did think he would be better.
7) Henrikh Mkhitaryan
The Armenian insists it “wasn’t a bad year” but we are pretty sure that he did not leave Borussia Dortmund to start 15 Premier League games. And we are pretty sure that Manchester United did not pay £26m to buy one Premier League assist, after his 15-assist haul in the Bundesliga this season. It has been a stop-start, not-quite season from Mkhitaryan, who really should not be starting fewer games and creating fewer chances than Jesse Lingard.
Some will insist that Paul Pogba should be on this list simply because of the rather large numbers attached to his name, but it is Mkhitaryan who has fallen far short of the mercurial form that made us all very excited to see him in England. Mind you, it takes a special kind of player to combine mercurial with the stifling tactics of Jose Mourinho.
6) The lack of kids
If Daniel Storey were writing this top ten, the lack of teenagers in the Premier League would be right at the top; nobody fears for the kids quite like Storey. These figures do not take in the final weekend of the season but are pretty damning.
6,132 minutes have been given to teenagers in the Premier League so far this season, whilst the last campaign saw a grand total of 11,582. pic.twitter.com/9vSTs2FKdv
— Youth Academies (@YouthAcademies) May 18, 2017
Marcus Rashford and Tom Davies really are the outliers in a season that has seen Chelsea winning the Premier League without giving a single minute to the talented Dominic Solanke, while teenage kickers Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Jeff Reine-Adelaide have been afforded just one minute in total by Arsenal.
That the numbers are plummeting is a pretty damning indictment of our Academy system.
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5) The bottom 13
“Next year everyone in the middle group will try to improve markedly like those top clubs have this year, I am convinced of that, so there won’t be the disparity that there has been this year,” said Stoke manager Mark Hughes, in charge of one of 13 clubs who have been serving up mediocrity or worse this season.
Liverpool finished eighth last season with 60 points; this season a clutch of ten clubs have dragged themselves to 40-plus points without getting close to 50. The season has ended with only six points separating eighth from 17th and it has quite frankly been awful fare for the most part.
We hoped Leicester might inspire clubs below the elite to lift themselves to greater things, but they have largely chosen to simply lie down. Southampton, West Ham, Stoke, Watford…all ‘difficult places to go’ that have become easy-peasy pickings.
4) The football. The Godawful football
Is it just me or has there been few standout Premier League games this season? Off top of my head: Man City 1 Liverpool 1/Swansea 5 Palace 4
— Sachin Nakrani (@SachinNakrani) May 18, 2017
We would add the opening-weekend 4-3 win for Liverpool at the Emirates, Bournemouth’s comeback win over Liverpool and Chelsea’s 2-1 win over Manchester City, but the point is valid that this has been a season sorely lacking in great football and great games.
It doesn’t help when one of the most expensively assembled sides in history plays for a draw in every ‘big game’ and accidentally gets a draw in most of the rest.
3) Arsenal’s £90m men
After the embarrassing £10m summer came the ambitious £91.5m summer that saw Arsenal spend only less than Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea. And yet here we stand at the end of the season, with question marks against every signing but £2m man Rob Holding.
Shkodran Mustafi started excellently but crumbled after Christmas, Granit Xhaka has had moments of sheer brilliance interwoven with moments of sheer stupidity and Lucas Perez has simply not been trusted; bought in a panic, he has only played once in a blue moon.
They came, they spent, they went backwards, they faced calls for the manager to bugger off. It’s not a classic tale.
2) Jose Mourinho
This was supposed to be the great, long-awaited marriage between one of the greatest clubs in European football and one of the greatest managers. The ego had landed at a club big and brash enough to house it with ease. It should have been epic. It should have been must-watch. It should have been box office. Instead it has all been a bit miserable, with unambitious football on the pitch and the usual raft of excuses in the press room.
Would the traditions of Manchester United force Mourinho into more attacking football? It seems not. Would he prove himself as a coach rather than a buyer of great players? Apparently not. Victory in the Europa League will rescue this season from disaster but it takes some spectacular PR to paint this campaign as anything close to success.
1) Pep Guardiola
When Manchester City won their first six games of the Premier League season, if felt like they had cheated by bringing in the best manager in world football and giving him significant sums to spend. When Manchester City then failed to win in six games in all competitions, we were the ones who felt cheated. We wanted a Barcelona in blue and got a Manchester-based Arsenal, who looked vulnerable at the back, occasionally thrilling in attack, but ultimately flattered to deceive.
“In my situation at a big club: I’m sacked. I’m out. Sure. Definitely,” admitted Guardiola, who at least concedes that things have not gone swimmingly at City. The clue was when you put Jesus Navas at right-back, Pep.