Brighton’s push for Europe and Chelsea, Liverpool’s struggles in top 10 surprises of the season
Every Premier League season has many a surprise in it. From Arsenal’s quest for the title to Crystal Palace being a bit s**t, here are the top ten of 2022/23. Enjoy.
10) The Erling Haaland debate
Manchester City won the Premier League title last season and then decided to add Erling Haaland to their ranks. The 2022/23 title race was over before it even began. How could anyone compete with them now?
Others felt that Haaland would struggle to replicate his Borussia Dortmund form in England. But nobody quite saw this coming: He has 42 goals in 37 matches across all competitions for City after scoring 29 in 30 for Dortmund last season. There was no settling-in process for the Nordic robot; he scored three hat-tricks in his first eight league games, for crying out loud.
Unfortunately for City, Arsenal are top of the table, which has led to some pundits and fans claiming that Pep Guardiola’s side are worse off with Haaland. Yes, he doesn’t get too involved in City’s build-up play, but who cares? He presses efficiently and scores goals at a rate that is incomparable to anyone else in the Premier League. Of course City are not better without him. Of course City are not the wrong club for him. This debate needs put to bed for good.
9) West Ham going from Europa League semi-finalists to fighting for survival
David Moyes’ second stint at the London Stadium has largely been a lot better than his first. His return was met with moans and groans, with many expecting West Ham to be stuck in the bottom half for the foreseeable future. But Moyes almost led the Hammers to the Champions League in 20/21, finishing two points behind fourth and then managed to qualify for the Europa Conference League last season while balancing a Europa League campaign that saw West Ham go all the way to the semi-finals, where they were knocked out by eventual winners Eintracht Frankfurt.
To see West Ham now in the thick of a relegation fight is baffling. Declan Rice has not been himself, Michail Antonio’s run as the main man is surely over, and summer signings like Nayef Aguerd, Lucas Paqueta and Gianluca Scamacca have failed to hit the form expected.
At the time of writing, the Irons are still in the Conference League and could well win the competition, which would see them return to the Europa League, but they sit inside the relegation zone in the Premier League. Moyes’ future in charge is very much in doubt, and it would not be a surprise to see the Scot replaced in the summer.
On a side note, Leicester City being really rubbish is pretty surprising as well, but our very own saw this coming from a mile off.
8) Newcastle being in the Champions League hunt since day one – and Miguel Almiron
Newcastle United are obviously filthy rich and have made some very astute signings under their Saudi-led ownership, but the speed of their progression has been very surprising.
Eddie Howe led the Magpies to their first cup final of the century – losing 2-0 to Manchester United at Wembley – and has got his side in a brilliant position to finish inside the top four of the Premier League. Two points separate themselves and fourth-placed Tottenham, but Newcastle have two games in hand. They are the current favourites to pull it off, which is spectacular considering it is essentially April. I know it’s March until it’s April, that’s how it works. But the international break means the next league match will be played next month.
Singling out one Newcastle star in particular, the form of Miguel Almiron has been especially surprising. Howe has brought the best out of a lot of players who didn’t look like much of an asset under Steve Bruce, from Fabian Schar to Sean Longstaff, but there is no greater success story than Almiron.
The Paraguayan fan favourite scored a grand total of one goal last season but has 11 in 25 league games this term. His form in October and November was especially impressive, scoring seven goals in as many matches. The goals might have dried up a little, but what a season Almiron is having.
7) Crystal Palace being rubbish and bringing back Roy Hodgson
A few of us at F365 thought Crystal Palace would be pushing for European football – myself included – yet here we are in March (not April) and the Eagles are without a win in 2023 and have just replaced Patrick Vieira with the man he replaced, Roy Hodgson. Writing that doesn’t make it feel any more real than it is. What a shambles.
Palace are 12th in the Premier League, which doesn’t sound that bad, but 11 points separate themselves and 11th, while only four points separate them and rock bottom.
Vieira looked like he had it sussed out at Selhurst Park and enjoyed a fairly impressive 21/22 campaign before adding a few new faces. I probably overestimated this squad, but this run of form I didn’t see coming in a million years. Another thing I didn’t see coming was the return of Roy Hodgson. Seriously, what the f**k? No disrespect to Hodgson, but this is a very bizarre decision. It makes the sacking of Vieira look pointless and shows a huge lack of ambition on Steve Parish’s part. Palace’s biggest problem is scoring goals, and the 76-year-old is not expected to solve that problem.
Hodgson retired for the 200th time last season after a difficult spell in charge of Watford. He obviously still has a hunger to manage in the Premier League, which I have the utmost respect for, but I hope he finally calls it quits for good when his short-term contract in south London comes to an end.
6) Marcus Rashford MBE
It has been a difficult few years for Marcus Rashford on the pitch, but he has been bloody fantastic this season, which is brilliant to see, even as someone who doesn’t support Manchester United or indeed England.
Missing that penalty for England at Euro 2020 did Rashford no good whatsoever after netting 21 and assisting 15 the season before. The United man fell out of favour with the Three Lions amidst his struggles at club level, ending 21/22 with five goals, which resulted in rumours that he could be sold.
Rashford’s time at Old Trafford looked like it could be coming to an end and there were question marks over whether new manager Erik ten Hag fancied him. Fast-forward seven months and the club’s biggest priority is to renew the forward’s contract given his outstanding form this season. Ten Hag is more than bringing the best out of the 25-year-old, who has 27 goals and nine assists in 44 matches across all competitions.
Not only back in the England team, but Rashford might also prove to be Gareth Southgate’s most important player for the next two years, if not more.
5) The brilliance of Brighton, Brentford and Fulham
All three of these teams have been brilliant and all have their own narrative and probably deserve their own individual rankings. Unfortunately for them, we obviously have a huge ‘big six’ bias and don’t care enough to do that.
Every season brings a team that shocks everyone with how high they finish, and these three teams are all doing just that. I mentioned Newcastle earlier, but what these three are doing eclipses the Magpies’ achievements this season.
When Graham Potter left for Chelsea in September and was replaced by Roberto De Zerbi, nobody knew what to expect from Brighton, but I think it is fair to say that nobody saw this coming. Graeme Souness hilariously said that De Zerbi ‘doesn’t know Our League’ and the Italian’s start was a difficult one, but it has turned out to be a very smart appointment by a very smart club. Brighton are in the FA Cup semi-finals and have a good chance of winning the whole thing, even if United and probably City are standing in their way.
A top-four finish is not beyond De Zerbi and his players, with a Conference League spot seeming like it is their worst-case scenario. De Zerbi has got players like Kaoru Mitoma, Solly March, Evan Ferguson and Pervis Estupinan on top of their game and deserves all the plaudits he is getting.
READ MORE: Brighton are the perfect second team for a football fan who supports someone sh*t
Brighton’s superb season takes nothing away from Brentford and Fulham, who are both in the hunt for continental qualification. The Bees are on the same number of points as Brighton, having played two more games and are not suffering from second-season syndrome.
Fulham, on the other hand, were tipped to go down by every single one of us on this website, besides Matt Stead, whose good work has been cancelled out by saying Brentford would go down.
The form of Joao Palhinha has been amazing. The Portuguese midfielder was linked with plenty of big clubs before the Cottagers signed him with little to no competition. His performances have been surprising to see after so many sides turned down the opportunity to sign him; Palhinha only cost €20million and if he leaves this summer, will go for at least treble that amount.
4) Erik ten Hag turning Manchester United around so quickly
Rashford’s turnaround under Ten Hag epitomises the club’s turnaround as a whole. The Dutch manager won a trophy at the earliest possible opportunity, ending the club’s six-year wait for a piece of silverware. Furthermore, he has his side in the semis of the FA Cup and quarters of the Europa League, so a cup treble is within reach.
On top of the Red Devils’ cup success, United are extremely likely to finish in the top four and there was even some talk of a title push and unprecedented quadruple – although all of that ludicrous talk died off fairly quickly.
United were in turmoil this time last year with the Ralf Rangnick experiment falling flat on its face. It was between Ten Hag and Mauricio Pochettino to be Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s long-term successor and it already looks like the Old Trafford hierarchy made the correct choice.
The Red Devils have been woeful in the transfer window over the years, yet Ten Hag has got it spot on in his only two windows in charge, with the only doubt being the signing of Antony, who joined for around £80m. He has improved Rashford beyond belief and is also working wonders with David de Gea, Luke Shaw, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Fred, Raphael Varane and more. If they get this summer right, United will be title contenders next season.
3) Liverpool being rubbish
Liverpool have enjoyed a great deal of success under Jurgen Klopp, but are currently enduring a very difficult season. The Reds have picked up more than 90 points in three of the last four Premier League seasons and have not finished outside the Champions League places since 15/16, which was the season the German manager took over from Brendan Rodgers.
Injuries have been a problem, there is no getting away from that, but it is not an excuse for how disappointing Liverpool have been. They reached the final of the Carabao Cup, FA Cup and Champions League whilst balancing a brutal title challenge last term, but were knocked out early in all three competitions this time around and are trying desperately to get back into the top four.
Mohamed Salah might have 22 goals this season (11 in the Premier League) but he has been disappointing, while Joel Matip and Fabinho have struggled in particular. This could be the end of an era at Anfield, with this summer an important one in the club’s future, but their rotten form this season has been surprising to see the least. Nobody saw that coming.
2) Chelsea Football Club
Where do I even start with this one? They went into the season having been crowned European champions a year before and with one of the best managers in world football who had just been granted a huge summer transfer budget under the club’s new ownership.
It all went south pretty quickly for Thomas Tuchel and Chelsea, however. The German was sacked by Todd Boehly, with Graham Potter coming in. The former Brighton boss did well to begin with but one defeat opened the floodgates.
An 11-point gap doesn’t sound too daunting, but it will be very difficult for the Blues to finish in the top four. Winning the Champions League seems like the most realistic route back into the competition, but that feels even more unlikely than it did two years ago. To be in the top half on goal difference at this stage of the season is horrendous, even if it is a transitional period for the club.
Their business in both transfer windows has also been extremely surprising. Spending £300m in January is unheard of, and it hasn’t really improved anything at Stamford Bridge.
1) Arsenal’s incredible quest for Premier League glory
The last two points have been very negative reading, so let’s end on a positive note – for Arsenal fans anyway.
Literally nobody said Arsenal would win the Premier League. Fourth was the best anyone really expected. Yet they are eight points clear with ten games left to play.
They are not there by luck or as a Leicester City. Mikel Arteta’s side fully deserve to be top of the tree and will fully deserve the title if they win it, and if they don’t win it, it will have still been an amazing season. The Gunners probably won’t ‘bottle’ their lead on top, but if City do win their third title in a row, it will probably be down to their brilliance, not Arsenal’s weak mentality.
The football Arsenal are playing is brilliant to see. Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli, Gabriel Magalhaes, Benjamin White and Martin Odegaard are five of many to take their game to another level, while the signings of Oleksandr Zinchenko and Gabriel Jesus have been inspired. I bet City regret selling to Arteta now…