The Premier League’s final day confirmed Chelsea and Manchester United’s Champions League qualification, and the relegation of Watford and Bournemouth. But how did each team fare based on the expectation of them at the start of the season? Here’s our alternative expectation table…
1) Sheffield United
Not even our resident Sheffield United fan expected this. Chris Wilder’s side were expected to ruffle a few feathers in the Premier League this season, but the anticipated heroic defeats were instead – more often than not – Herculean victories. The overlapping centre-backs proved too much for the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal, who crumbled in the face of a team that had the quality to put the extraordinary tactics of their talismanic manager into action. What a season.
2) Leicester City
They really did f*** it in the end, but Brendan Rodgers spoke of the need for “perspective” after their defeat to Manchester United on Sunday. He said he was proud of his players as he guided them to their second-highest finish in the Premier League. The should have qualified for the Champions League given they were nine points clear of Chelsea, and 14 ahead of United at the turn of the year. But 18 wins and fifth place is still a standout season for Rodgers and his side.
It was only ever going to be between Liverpool and Manchester City, but most thought Pep Guardiola’s side would again prove slightly more brilliant than the Reds. Liverpool’s excellence is far less surprising than City’s fallibility. And despite finishing 18 points clear, Jurgen Klopp’s side have picked up just two more points than last season. Of course, they probably would have been further clear had they been required to keep winning, and having no real challenger should not denigrate from what has been an outstanding title-winning season.
Chelsea’s tally of 66 points would have earned them fourth place in just one of the last 10 Premier League seasons, and they’ve conceded more than anyone in the top half. But they got there, and as Frank Lampard has said frequently – if annoyingly – since the start of the season, nobody really expected them to qualify for the Champions League. Except his deluded cousin. There was a wry smile of justification on Lampard’s face as Mason Mount – one of the success stories of the season – curled his free-kick in against Wolves on Sunday. Fellow challengers for the top four may have been off the pace for much of the season, but for Chelsea to remain in the hunt and get over the line considering this season’s caveats is a significant achievement.
— Christian Pulisic (@cpulisic_10) July 26, 2020
Sean Dyche is going on holiday as he’s tired of the same old questions about his future at the club. Burnley simply have to keep him. They have once again punched well above their weight to finish tenth in the Premier League. If they lose Dyche, they will be odds-on to go down – such is the influence of the man.
Their season started 367 days ago, and could carry on for a further 25 should they go all the way to the Europa League final. They may have only eclipsed their tally of last season by two points, but the sheer weight of games for a ludicrously small squad means the progression has been far greater than that nominal increase suggests.
There’s a slightly weird feeling of annoyance among Newcastle fans that Steve Bruce has done so well. Many expected him to fumble his way through a relegation battle, rather than finishing 13th, the same position as last season under Rafa Benitez. Yes, his appointment didn’t scream ambition, but with the takeover of the club probably, possibly, maybe about to happen, his role in keeping Newcastle in the Premier League has been absolutely vital.
8) Crystal Palace
The final-day draw with Spurs ended a seven-game losing streak to add a touch of sweetness to what must be a pretty sour taste in the mouth of Roy Hodgson and his team at the of the season. Palace were ninth on June 20, six points off a Champions League spot, and finished 14th, leading to speculation over Hodgson’s future. But he spent next to nothing and lost Aaron Wan-Bissaka in the summer. Roy’s remit will have been to keep Palace in the division and he did it. Be careful what you wish for.
One of the great in-season turnarounds in Premier League history. Two defeats following the 9-0 mauling by Leicester left Southampton 19th on eight points from 12 games. They then accrued 46 points from the 78 left available. The same points-per-game ratio stretched across the whole season would have seen them finish on 67 points, above both Manchester United and Chelsea. If it hadn’t been for the terrible start, they would be top of this list.
10) Manchester United
You could easily argue United should be far higher on this list; they finished third and no-one could reasonably have expected them to have done any better. But despite finishing three places higher than last season, they spent nearly £200million, finished on the same number of points and even further behind the champions. Theirs is a situation that sums up a bizarre Premier League season. United fans will rightly be enthusiastic for what’s to come, the future is as bright as it’s been for a long time, but – in reality, or maybe fantasy, I’m not sure which – they have underperformed once again.
Graham Potter has dramatically changed Brighton’s style, that’s evident. A huge risk for a club of their standing, and one many thought would be their undoing. But having avoided relegation by the skin of their teeth through defensive grit and determination under Chris Hughton, they’ve realistically been safe for a while now this season with the unwavering possession-based philosophy of Potter.
12) Aston Villa
They only got 35 points, but they won’t care. Of course it was Jack Grealish who got them over the line in the end – has there been a more important player to a club this season? It’s not quite a one-man team – John McGinn was excellent before his injury and Dean Smith was eager to point out the influence of Douglas Luiz, particularly in the second half of the season. But as Grealish said in a tweet after the draw with West Ham – this is “MY club”. But for how much longer?
— Jack Grealish (@JackGrealish) July 26, 2020
13) Manchester City
They scored seven more goals than last season, but conceded 12 more. They have frequently battered teams, but have really suffered through too great a reliance on their only world-class defender, Aymeric Laporte. The inability to fill the gaping leadership hole left by Vincent Kompany was exacerbated by Laporte’s injury, but it looked like a misstep before the season started and cost them dearly as their attacking brilliance was unable to pick up the slack left by an all-too-wieldy defence. A Champions League victory and all will be forgotten, but this was a pretty pathetic attempt to retain the Premier League title.
In a leaked rush of the upcoming Amazon Prime documentary – which has now unfortunately been removed from Twitter – Jose Mourinho said he wanted his “nice guys to be c**ts for 90 minutes”, and that’s been evident in Spurs’ recent performances. It’s not been pretty, but he’s added a steeliness to the side that was missing under Mauricio Pochettino. As Jose is at pains to remind us, Spurs “would be fourth” since he arrived, but a finish of sixth on the back of a Champions League final and £100million of new faces is well below par.
15) West Ham
David Moyes did what he was brought in to do – no more, no less. When he took over, West Ham were 17th on 19 points at the midway point in the season, and they finished 16th, picking up 20 points in the second half. They didn’t get relegated, but showed very little of the guile and technical ability their myriad tricky wingers and No.10s should have produced. It was a very typical West Ham season.
Marco Silva was sacked with Everton in 18th place on just 14 points from 15 games, having wasted over £100million on players in the summer. Since then – under the stewardship of Big Dunc and then Carlo Ancelotti – they’ve picked up just over 1.5 points per game, which would see them in eighth spot were it stretched across the season, Which is exactly where Everton should always finish. A similar outlay this summer and they should be right in the mix to fight for the Everton Cup once again.
17) Norwich City
No-one expected them to stay up, and they strangely seemed to plan to go down themselves. They were fun for a while, but quickly became the whipping boys.
In perhaps the first season no-one was expecting Bournemouth to go down, they’ve gone down. Their defence failed to deal with the added pressure of the faltering attack. Conceding over 60 Premier League goals a season isn’t such an issue when your forwards are firing. They weren’t.
What do you expect when you change managers as frequently as the volume on your television? What was poor Hayden Mullins supposed to do in games against Manchester City and Arsenal? Nigel Pearson said he “wished Watford all the best for the final two games”, but even someone without a sadistic bone in their body would have struggled not to titter as they fell from the top flight. They finished 11th last season, and have got some extraordinary talent in their squad. Troy Deeney is right, the club need an audit, from top to bottom.
Collectively, I wonder if the three teams who went down today contain the most talented group of players relegated from the Premier League?
— Seb Stafford-Bloor (@SebSB) July 26, 2020
Arsene Wenger only left Arsenal two seasons ago – Christ, that’s dragged. Since then they have spent over £200million and have nothing to show for it. Mikel Arteta has impressively righted a sinking ship by filling in numerous holes in a hull that had been peppered by insubordination under Unai Emery. But this was their lowest league finish since 1995 in a season in which they were strongly tipped to qualify for the Champions League. Even under the guidance of Arteta, expectations won’t be so high next season; he’s got a hell of a lot of work to do.
Will Ford is on Twitter