We haven’t checked the Premier League mood for a while. The last couple of the months are just far too volatile. But early summer is a content wasteland, sorry, ‘ideal time’ to take another look at who’s happy, who’s shitting themselves, who’s furious and who’s Everton. We also have a theory that nobody is truly miserable at this stage of the summer, when the sun shines and the real world of losing football matches again in August seems absolutely miles off, and only the very silliest of sillies are worrying about the lack of transfer activity at their club.
So if your club is near the bottom of this, we’re not necessarily saying you’re all miserable or doomed or whatever, just that others might right now be even happier with life. Okay? We don’t want to upset you and spoil your mood…
Oh, honestly, f**k knows. Have surely managed there to produce the worst possible season a member of the gilded, cosseted, protected elite could ever muster. For everyone else, a welcome reminder that as football accelerates inexorably down a path of state-owned megawealth that even with seemingly bottomless pits of cash it’s still possible to f**k things up if you make a complete enough bollocks of absolutely everything.
But that’s likely to be fleeting. Chelsea have already taken the important step of appointing a manager who is neither shit nor likely to find Chelsea too big a beast for him to handle. Added bonus for Chelsea fans that it was an appointment that caused untold anguish among Spurs fans who were already in quite a lot of pain. Squad remains an absolute clusterf**k of a mess of a shambles, though, and significant improvement on an all-time terrible Premier League season remains far from guaranteed.
Still pure crazy that eight English teams will be in Europe next season and Chelsea, who have won four European titles in the last 12 years, will not be among them.
Hmm. The alarming thing here is that while the mood is still not great it’s far better than it was. Online gobshites who can’t spell their own hashtag properly apart, most Spurs fans appear to have given the arrival of Ange Postecoglou (extremely) cautious approval. On the one hand, he has no big-league experience and it could go horrendously awry; on the other hand, that’s been happening anyway with Spurs managers who’ve won the lot and Postecoglou inspires a devotion among his players and supporters that places him far more in the Poch-Jol mould than any recent Spurs appointment, and those are the managers who’ve actually done well in this most impossible of jobs.
At the very least, Spurs fans now have a manager who won’t spend his whole time negging them and the club and its players which should at least help make the general atmosphere around the place a bit more pleasant. Still, any optimism will remain cautious at best until at the very least a new first-choice goalkeeper, centre-back and playmaker are through the door, and said optimism will evaporate altogether if Harry Kane is sold. It’s a vey delicate summer ahead of a precarious season for a club that has seen Newcastle roar past them in a season where they finished in eighth but could in truth have been even worse given the paucity of their football and extreme reliance on the otherworldly brilliance of Kane.
Hard really to describe 2022/23 as anything other than the worst Liverpool season of the Jurgen Klopp Era. Despite two of the Big Four suffering alarmingly massive collapses, Liverpool only briefly threatened a top-four finish and made no impression on any cup competition either. Given that they took the 2022 title race to the wire, reached the Champions League final and won both domestic cups, a nonentity of a league season, fourth-round exits in both cups and a last-16 Champions League exit – to Real Madrid again – is really quite the fall. Even the fast finish to the season that righted some of the wrongs eventually ran out of puff with draws against Aston Villa and then Southampton in a classic slice of low-stakes final-day Barclays absurdity. And Everton stayed up.
Liverpool have at least made a big and eye-catching early summer signing. No guarantee of success, of course, but always provides a welcome dopamine hit while other fans bemoan their club dragging its heels when nobody is photographed holding the club shirt on day one of the transfer window. But the overall mood still feels some way short of Liverpool at their most bullish.
Got a really good manager in Julen Lopetegui. Rewarded for patience in waiting for him to be available when it would have been easy to panic as the relegation battle got stickier. Should now be able to look forward with something approaching confidence and perhaps even excitement, but very real prospect they could bollocks it all up with Lopetegui not entirely enamoured with the state of things behind the scenes and threatening to walk. We’ll have a better idea of the Wolves mood by summer’s end when, if Lopetegui remains and a few more lovely Portuguese players have turned up, all should hopefully be well.
Disaster averted. Fine. Good. Now what? How about not flirting with disaster at all this time, yeah? Maybe give that a try? Time for Sean Dyche to show he’s more than a gravel-voiced disc-bearded firefighter. No more relegation battles, please.
15) Manchester United
The moods are a curious beast. Viewed in isolation and as a whole, United had precisely the kind of very decent season they needed. If there were three main targets for the first year under Erik Ten Hag they would have been: 1) make the club slightly less of a constant embarrassment, 2) win some overdue silverware, 3) get back in the Champions League. Tick, tick, tick. Well done. Everything is grand. Except it isn’t quite, is it? City emulating the 1999 treble is a right kick in the goolies, the fanbase is split down the middle by the prospect of fighting fire with fire by selling out to Qatar, and even their own football side of things ended up a bit flat.
The absurd quadruple talk about a team quite literally never in the title race never emanated from Old Trafford, but the disappointment at failing to add to the Carabao was palpable and understandable. The Europa League was enormously winnable – just look at how staggeringly shit the final was – while losing to City in the FA Cup final was a pisser for multiple reasons.
14) Crystal Palace
Got themselves out of the relegation picture quicksmart after Roy Hodgson returned. How much of that was down to Hodgson and how much the quirky fixture list that gave him a run-in containing exclusively shit teams will never truly be known, but while the fans seemed happy to have him back and he did make quite encouraging use of the exciting players at his disposal, from the outside looking in it appeared a short-term and backwards step that felt a bit disappointing. Not for us to say, though, is it? They seem happy. We’re happy for them. (We’re not. We’re never happy for happy people.)
Viewed from a vantage point of last August, an absurdly brilliant season. Viewed from, say, April’s outlook, a huge and crushing disappointment. A curious feeling descends over the Emirates, and it doesn’t help when your fans have been the most vocal and gleeful deployers of bottle-job narratives about literally everyone else now the shoe is on the other foot. “We didn’t bottle it, nobody expected us to be in a title race at all actually,” insist Arsenal fans as they slowly shrink and transform into a corn cob. As they painfully reap the banter they sowed, Arsenal – who finished second playing often glorious and thrilling football – somehow have to contend with the reality of being mercilessly mocked for their embarrassing ending to a season when Spurs finished eighth and Chelsea in the actual bottom half of the table with Frank actual Lampard back as their manager.
Feels like the start of next season is of outsized importance for Arsenal, because this season remains absolutely fine if it’s a launching pad for something. If, as all Arsenal fans fear openly or secretly, it turns out to be a bit of a one-off then it will forever be bittersweet.
Ended up being a sort of under-the-radar kind of season for Fulham which probably wasn’t fair. Maybe because they didn’t quite maintain the excellent start, maybe because others stole their ‘surprise package’ thunder a bit, while the collapse of bigger clubs caught the attention. But quietly forgettable is actually not the worst thing a season can be, especially for a club that spent the previous four years yo-yoing between the Barclays and the Sky Bet.
Won more league games – and very nearly more points – in 2022/23 than their last two Premier League seasons combined and managed to finish slap bang in the middle not only of the league table but also of the glut of London clubs at its centre, 10th directly behind Spurs and Brentford and directly ahead of Palace and Chelsea. That last element definitely helps the mood, which one imagines should be quite sanguine. Personally, we’d definitely enjoy finishing quietly and competently 10th in the Premier League if it marked our first season without promotion or relegation since 2017. Exhausting.
Stayed up with pretty minimal fuss in the end after the early-season Scott Parker-based unpleasantness. That losing streak to end the season just vexes us slightly, though. Sure, on the one hand it’s a classic of the ‘Get to 40 points (39, but that’s nitpicking) and then relax’ genre, but on the other we’ve seen lots of recent evidence that shows a bad end to one season can easily bleed into the next. It’s not like things fell off a cliff – the last two defeats were by the only goal to Champions League-qualifiers Manchester United and a do-or-die Everton – but after securing safety with that sparkling run of six wins in nine games it was a bit meh. Still, it’s a minor nagging doubt really and nothing that signing Kylian Mbappe couldn’t sort out.
Star striker is suspended for months. Star goalkeeper is almost certainly off to Spurs or Manchester United or Chelsea or someone. And yet serenity prevails at Brentford, who laughed in the face of second-season syndrome by finishing a cosy and comfortable ninth in a campaign that never once threatened to see them dragged into that unpleasant mass scramble to dodge the drop in the bottom half. Already have the feel of an established, here-for-a-while Premier League club, and you get the impression things will stay that way until someone ‘bigger’ or ‘better’ notices Thomas Frank. Feels like that is the only thing that could really harsh Brentford’s buzz right now. They didn’t even miss Toney, winning their last three games without him against Europe-conquering West Ham and Man City and less impressively Spurs.
9) Nottingham Forest
Stayed up thanks to not sacking their manager having wisely and correctly weighed it up and decided he was still the best man for what was and is a spectacularly difficult job. A lesson we look forward to watching absolutely nobody – very possibly including Forest themselves – heeding next season. For now all is absolutely fine and dandy with another season of lovely nutritious Barclays secured actually quite comfortably in the end with a whole game to spare. Everybody’s happy. Now to sign another 26 players.
8) Sheffield United
Got themselves back up after missing out in 2022. Needed to. Didn’t entirely convince, though, losing very nearly a quarter of their games in the Championship despite finishing a long way clear of the play-off pack. Long way behind Burnley perhaps feels more relevant at a club where promotion was greeted more with relief than giddy joy and where much work is needed to avoid the yo-yo tag.
Heading on a European tour, have probably already signed someone who is much better than Alexis Mac Allister two years ago for 37 pounds and a bag of balls. Imagine not having to worry about anything that happens in the transfer window because you support the one club where everything just works out fine even when you sell your four best players and lose your manager in the space of a year. Must be lovely.
Yes. Very good. That is close to the ideal manner in which to put relegation unpleasantness behind you and get back in the Premier League: storming through the Championship in swaggering style under an exciting young coach to encourage the idea that now, back in the top flight, mere grinding survival need not be the limit of ambition. Vincent Kompany has sowed a seed that Burnley can once again be more than mere survivors. Doesn’t matter right now whether that actually turns out to be the case, it only matters that the idea of it is there and plausible. The fact he is so clearly determined to see the job through is also excellent news. Absolutely no chance of course that Burnley are able to do too well for too long before a manager with Kompany’s intoxicating big-club player credentials is spirited away, but for now all is rosy.
5) Aston Villa
An incredible season’s narrative, which started off with the prospect of a grim battle against relegation under Steven Gerrard, went through a spell of ‘It’s just a nice relief to be able to quietly enjoy a stress-free mid-table life with a proper, sensible manager’ to actual qualification for Europe. And West Ham’s subsequent Conference delight only improves things further for Villa, offering as it does a tantalising glimpse of what could be heading their way in what is comfortably the most winnable competition available to any non-elite English side apart from silly old ‘sack that shit off’ Spurs.
Nobody in the Conference is as good as even a second-string Man City Carabao side. This is not meant snarkily, but to highlight the opportunity available. Especially with a manager who knows how to get shit done in European competition. Few clubs can look forward to next season more now than Villa, who should if anything be able to throw themselves even more enthusiastically into the Conference than the Hammers, because Villa have a better manager and shouldn’t get themselves into the sort of unpleasant relegation tangle that haunted West Ham’s domestic season.
The road to global domination is proving quicker than anyone inside or outside Newcastle can have imagined. Some Newcastle fans are no doubt finding it at least slightly difficult to square their new-found success with the source of their new-found wealth given Saudi Arabia’s PIF has some pretty worrying connections to widespread human rights abuses and also g*lf. Most are just absolutely loving it, though, because they are football fans and that’s what matters. That’s not a criticism of Newcastle fans, because all fanbases would be broadly similar we reckon. Although we do find ourselves wondering if it isn’t a slightly more exaggerated effect for Newcastle, a fanbase who have been told by the media for years – long before the Saudi investment – that they are special and deserve better. Can’t blame them for believing it.
Lovely stuff. We’re definitely all going to become very weary of Kenilworth Road Away Entrance Discourse by mid-September – if we aren’t already – but I think the excited chatter about the ground comes from a good place. Lots of people seem to think other fans are sneering at Luton, but that’s not really it, in most cases. It’s more excitement that this creaking old stadium with its terraced house entrances represents what English football used to be and a counterpoint to the sanitised gloss finish of your modern Premier League. Kenilworth Road is not the sort of stadium the Premier League’s carefully constructed global image is all about, and that makes it funny that it is now absolutely part of that league. It’s a rare win for all of us.
Luton fans, of course, don’t have to care about any of that if they don’t want to. They’ve been a quite ludicrous 35-year journey from the top flight to non-league football and back again, but it must feel nice to know that you’re going to have the neutral support pretty much every single week. Right up until the point it becomes horribly patronising. But that’s ages off yet. Luton Town are Premier League.
2) West Ham
Utterly and rightfully giddy as all f**k. Utterly and rightfully about to lord it over Spurs fans for as long as their trophy drought persists, which may well be absolutely bloody ages. Utterly and rightfully dismissive of every dull prick who tells them it was Only The Europa Conference, like West Ham – a club who hadn’t won any trophy in over 40 years – ought to be sniffy about only winning the third most important trophy European football can offer. Absolutely nobody is pretending the Conference is the biggest pot on offer, but watch the limbs after Jarrod Bowen’s 90th-minute winner in Prague and you will see thousands and thousands of people having the time of their lives and somehow managing to enjoy the moment without pausing for even a single solitary second to think “Oh shit, I hope Jason Cundy doesn’t think this is small-time of us.”
Of course, West Ham will at some point have to deal with some sort of return to reality. We can all be delighted for David Moyes that his career finally has major silverware attached to it while also thinking it’s probably not ideal that West Ham are now a bit stuck with a manager who oversaw a horrible domestic season that for far too long looked like it might end in total disaster, and will have to negotiate next season without Declan Rice. All that shit can wait for much later in the summer, though. For now, good vibes only. No talk of next season. No talk of Rice’s exit. And above all, no talk of Jason Cundy.
1) Manchester City
Yeah, pretty chipper all round really. They’ve won the treble, you see. Which is quite good, and they don’t care much at all right now about your whingeing over the unfairness of it all. Right now they’re simply gorging themselves on a heady diet of Jack Grealish content washed down with the delicious salty tears of Manchester United fans trying to convince anyone who’ll listen – but mainly in truth themselves – that their treble was better because reasons. Best of all for City fans, in no sense does this even feel like the end of the ride. It’s just another stopping point on the journey rather than the destination. There’s probably a good couple of years yet before PIF-fuelled Newcastle sail past them and another couple after that before a Qatar-powered Manchester United ruin everything. There are at least a hundred more Grealish Insta stories between now and then.