16 Final Day Conclusions: Man City again, Foden again, The Inevitable, The Arsenal, Klopp, Goals and more

Dave Tickner
Manchester City player Phil Foden with the Premier League trophy
Phil Foden is quite good

Phil Foden and Man City are phenomenal, as it seems are Crystal Palace under Oliver Glasner. Jurgen Klopp said goodbye; Mauricio Pochettino will surely stay.


1) Seventy-nine seconds. That’s how long it took for the ‘very probable’ to become the ‘almost certain’. There will always be those ‘off the pitch’ caveats and understandably, inevitably so. But on the pitch Manchester City really are extraordinary.

The first team ever to win English football’s top flight in four successive seasons, a record of such scale it is impervious to ‘football wasn’t invented in 1992’ taunts. This is actual English football history we’re witnessing here, not just Premier League history. If next week’s FA Cup final goes the way it surely must, then it’s a Double-Double. Another first.

Pep Guardiola’s side are utterly relentless and didn’t this time even give us the sort of japes provided by going 2-0 down to Aston Villa only to score three goals in six minutes and go ‘what were you worried about?’.

There were only two brief moments of doubt/excitement/tension hereafter the brilliant Phil Foden brilliantly scored a brilliant goal before many of us had even properly set all our screens up; one at the end of the first half, one at the end of the second.

The first came when West Ham – or more specifically Mohammed Kudus – conjured an outrageous self-assisted overhead kick for a goal not so much against the run of play as denying the run of play’s existence altogether to reduce the Hammers’ arrears at almost exactly the same moment Takehiro Tomiyasu was equalising for Arsenal against Everton.

The other moment of tantalising possibility came at the very end of the afternoon when Arsenal completed an understandably laboured turnaround against Everton while Tomas Soucek appeared to make it 3-2 at the Etihad. Or at least he did if you were the one person watching not to notice he’d done it with his hand and then almost guiltily celebrated when the goal was given on field, knowing full well what was happening next.

VAR did the necessary and gave us a long overdue conspiracy angle for a final day involving Arsenal. We had high hopes earlier when Jarrod Bowen was ruled out by ‘illness’. Could we be looking at a lasagnegate situation here? With Arsenal and West Ham involved it was a bit on the nose, but alas Bowen was afflicted with tonsilitis rather than the wild sh*ts.

VAR it would have to be then, and we’ve already seen ‘the referee only allowed it on the field knowing that VAR would rule it out’ escalate to ‘the referee only allowed it on the field knowing that VAR would rule it out and then City would vote to keep VAR and everyone would go thank heavens we have VAR’.

Ignoring that this is mad, it’s also wildly wrong-headed, isn’t it? If you’re anywhere approaching neutral, surely you want a second West Ham goal at that point, don’t you? Give the final minutes something a bit more than “Are these lads actually going to rush the pitch before the final whistle, and what’s the penalty for that and is it three points?” to go at.


2) What we will say is this, if we’re going to delve deep into the world of meaningless hypotheticals: Arsenal v Everton and City v West Ham needed to play out the other way round, didn’t they? That would have been right up there with the very best final-day dramas, that. Arsenal easing into an early 2-0 lead as City fall behind against the odds. Then City equalising just as Arsenal’s lead itself becomes surprisingly fragile. Arsenal restoring their two-goal cushion to leave ALL EYES on the Etihad where a late City winner breaks Arsenal hearts.

Just goes to show how close we came to a thrilling final day instead of this anti-climax in which we all had to pretend a four-goal swing becoming a two-goal swing represented enormous jeopardy. The Barclays was still playing all the right notes, just not necessarily in the right order.


3) How undeniably if quite predictably fitting, though, that the day’s main man should end up being Foden, the homegrown academy product in the team of global superstars, casually winning his sixth Premier League title at the age of 23 and never being a more important part of the puzzle than he is right now.

His first goal was one of the most elite nerve-settlers this kind of day has ever witnessed, while his second was created by the livewire Jeremy Doku who managed somehow to thread a pass through a gap between about five West Ham players that simply didn’t appear to exist. The gap that is, not the players. Although the latter would at least explain the former.


4) But City would spend the rest of the first half inexplicably failing to add to that lead despite racking up nine shots on target inside the first half-hour to go with the apparently obligatory missed sitter from Erling Haaland, a man who remains one of the most unusual footballers ever to play this stupid game.

He really does appear only to have two modes: all-conquering unstoppable robot goalmachine who will surely devour us all; and incompetent irrelevance contributing nothing other than confusion and befuddlement. This was one of the second ones and there perhaps exists one timeline in one universe where Haaland’s performance today costs them the title, lives forever in infamy and results in Roy Keane actually being more insufferable about it than Arsenal fans.


5) As it was, Arsenal ended up just about doing what they had to do thanks to a late and very muted Kai Havertz winner. There’s something poetic about a lack of celebration at a club so often and so drearily criticised for the opposite, but we do think they absolutely should celebrate that win. It might not feel like much now, but we do quite expect it to feel of greater significance at some point down the road when/if Arsenal do manage to get over the line.

Winning today was always unlikely to be sufficient but it still needed to happen for Arsenal to retain control of the narrative of their season. It’s now a narrative of improvement, of getting closer to City – as much as anything else, the win today takes them to the 89 points City themselves managed last season – and bolsters belief that Arsenal can as Liverpool did get the better of them at some point, maybe even next season.

Lose today and it becomes a boring story of bottling on a day when it shouldn’t even have been possible to bottle it, and being no closer to City than they were this time last year. ‘Bottlers’ is still trending on Twitter anyway, but that’s always going to happen and unlike last season Arsenal can at least this time cheerfully ignore it for the utter b*llocks that it is.

Arsenal have won 16, drawn one and lost one of their last 18 Premier League games. It’s an exhausting reminder of how hard City are to topple but also a huge slice of evidence that Arsenal are only the second team anyone has managed to assemble capable of doing so. It’s not patronising or pointless to heap praise on this Arsenal team for pushing this Man City side this close for two years running.


6) What we will make no apologies for enjoying is Arsenal fans at the Emirates falling en masse for the fake West Ham equaliser rumour just before half-time.

It doesn’t matter who the team is, we absolutely love that this precious slice of final-day theatre has survived the invention of the smartphone and is, if anything, more prevalent than ever in big 2024.

You might think it would be impossible for a crowd of 60,000 people all with tiny computers in their pocket to be so fooled, but banter… finds a way. In this case, the collapse of phone signal when enough people start panic-checking their phones.

May the boffins never solve this one. May phone reception never be strong enough to see this vital part of our history and heritage be lost.


7) Another vital final-day tradition that must always be protected at all costs is there must always be loads and loads of goals scored in bright sunshine. It is simply the way it must be.

2023/24 delivered in style, with the added bonus of none of it actually making a single meaningful difference to the final league table. Every game featured at least two goals, only four teams failed to score and in all we got 37 goals with a 5-0 and a couple of 4-2s thrown in for good measure.

Yet what makes this final-day goalfest stand out is that it doesn’t really stand out. When Jarell Quansah bundled home Liverpool’s second goal from about six inches out it was the 1,223rd goal of the Premier League season, a new record not just for 20-team seasons but even the 22-game campaigns. And it’s worth remembering those 42-game seasons have a lot more games; a 20-team league is 380 games but a 22-team league has 462. And this season still had more goals than those ones despite having 82 fewer games. That’s a staggering thing, but doesn’t point to a great deal of high-quality defending going on.


8) Today’s results set up another stark indicator when it comes to the sheer number of goals that have this season become pretty much standard. Previously, there were only two examples of a Premier League team both scoring and conceding 60 goals. To nobody’s great surprise, those two teams were both in fact Tottenham, in 2007/08 and 2022/23.

This season, Tottenham duly completed this ‘achievement’ for a third time. But were joined in doing so by Aston Villa, Chelsea, Newcastle and West Ham. And there were near misses for Man United (57-58), Crystal Palace (57-58), Brighton (55-62), Bournemouth (54-67) and Brentford (56-65). Everton, with 51 goals conceded, had the fourth best defence in the country.

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9) But let’s not pretend this was all entirely down to free-flowing attacking football up and down the league and a bit of dodgy defending thrown in here and there. These statistics also owe their existence to what will go down as the worst collective effort by three promoted clubs we’ve ever seen. If there are uncomfortable questions to ask about whether City’s dominance is good for the Premier League brand, then the sight of all three promoted clubs going down so tamely even in a season where two of their theoretical rivals were hit with significant points penalties raises more.

Luton have at least had a go, but the bald numbers are grim. The three promoted-relegated clubs managed just 14 wins and 66 points between them, with five of those wins and 17 of those points collected amongst themselves.

They all lost, at home, on the final day and conceded another nine goals in the process to take the final number of goals conceded between them to an eye-watering 267. Even in a season where so many teams were so conspicuously inadequate in defence, the bottom three stand out as the three worst, with West Ham’s wild 74 goals conceded the only other 70-plus tally to go with Burnley’s 78, Luton’s 85 and Sheffield United’s spectacular 104.


10) None of those teams conceded five today, though. That fate was reserved for Aston Villa, whose players may have been guilty of enjoying the last few days and confirmation of their qualification for the Champions League.

A few months ago, Crystal Palace might have been precisely the sort of ground where a team of Villa’s quality could turn up half-prepared and half-arsed, but right now it’s a tough place to go even with your entire arse fully engaged and involved.

They’ve taken 19 points from the last 21 available and finish up a whisker away from their first 50-point season since getting back in the Premier League 11 years ago. But they are, clearly, going to be one of the teams to watch next season if – and it’s a big if – they can keep this band together to give next season a proper go.

A hat-trick for Jean-Philippe Mateta and two goals from Eberechi Eze is enough to remind anyone just how exciting this Palace team could be under Glasner and how this really is just the start. What they’ve done since losing 4-2 to Manchester City really is extraordinary. They beat Liverpool at Anfield on that bizarre and ultimately vital Super Sunday and have scored 20 goals in six games since that day. If the way you finish one season really can influence the way you start the next – and it certainly seems to have happened often enough to at least be worth noting – then who knows what next season could bring at Selhurst Park. Fifty points, for one thing.

But such is the brutal reality of Your Modern Football, combined with the paucity of current coaching availability yet a good few clubs potentially on the lookout that Palace may find this summer an uncomfortable one spent fending off interest in players and manager alike.

READ NEXTRanking Michael Olise’s nine summer options: Arsenal 8th, Man Utd 7th, Crystal Palace 2nd


11) Liverpool at least appear to have identified Jurgen Klopp’s successor, so that’s one thing ticked off the list. He bowed out of English football with a 2-0 win over Wolves that could and should have been far more comfortable but nevertheless allowed a couple of last glimpses of a big Klopp smile as well as what will in future look like the slightly incongruous sight of Klopp in the dugout while Liverpool play in their 2024/25 home kit, for which a full review will come in due course in the all-important kit rankings but our early judgement would decree has an overly fussy and obtrusive collar.

The farewells to Klopp have already been written, and it was undeniably a bit of a shame to see the way a potentially glorious farewell season petered out towards the end, but he at least walks away with yet another Anfield win on his record and that too on a day when it was easier than ever to be reminded of just how difficult it is to live with Manchester City and how important that somebody at least tries.

Nobody tried harder than Klopp, and ‘only one title’ will always be an empty criticism given the Barclays era in which he has found himself operating. His Liverpool CV is hardly lacking in silverware, but his contribution to Our League will always be measured in more than just trophies anyway.

Liverpool fans already know, but perhaps the rest of us won’t realise quite how big a part of the whole Barclays vibe Klopp has been until it all kicks off again in August without him.


12) Chelsea’s remarkable end-of-season resurgence concluded with a 2-1 win over Bournemouth that guarantees European football of one Thursday night flavour or other and a game that will be best remembered for featuring the other of today’s goal-of-the-season contenders thanks to Moises Caicedo’s halfway-line effort in the first half.

Sixth place is a remarkable outcome for Chelsea given where they’ve spent much of this season and the whole of the last. Their late form and the previously discussed dearth of alternatives to Mauricio Pochettino mean he at least now surely gets to start a second season in the Stamford Bridge big chair, something that appeared unlikely a few short weeks ago.

But while sixth place represents progress and recovery, only for so long will this be tolerated as an acceptable return on the absurd investment. Next season must be better for longer.


13) Newcastle’s textbook final-day win at Brentford – 3-0 up, pegged back to 3-2, eventually winning 4-2 – meant that Manchester United’s 2-0 win at now-suddenly-managerless Brighton was in vain and the final European spot will be settled by the FA Cup final.

If United win it, they will be in the Europa League with Chelsea in the Europa Conference and Newcastle are out of luck. If United, as we really must expect, do not win it, then Chelsea join Tottenham in the Europa League, Newcastle are in the Conference and United are left looking at a season where they can probably consider themselves fortunate to end it as high as the eighth best team in England given how bad they have been for much of it.

We still don’t really know where they will or should go from here, and that’s kind of the point. There is no clear and obvious path out of their current strife, and whatever route they take is likely to be arduous. Grim as it is for a club of United’s stature, trying to navigate that road while spending a season outside Europe might be for the best.


14) Nottingham Forest were already safe, barring the most absurd of absurdities, but two more goals for Chris Wood made absolutely sure of it. What a curiously vital player he has proved to be in this season’s major storylines.

First and most obviously, the relegation fight would have been a lot more interesting without Wood’s goals – six of which came against the promoted-relegated trio.

But then there’s that hat-trick against his former club Newcastle and the impact on their season in the midst of a four-match losing run, and perhaps most potently of all those missed chances against Manchester City.

Son Heung-min’s miss against City may end up being the one everyone remembers, but let’s not forget Wood’s role in this story.


15) Spurs for their part end their season with a 3-0 win over Sheffield United that provides a suitable final act for a curious season. A 3-0 win is obviously quite good, but how much can you really read into it given everything their opponents have been getting up to? Finishing fifth is obviously quite good, but how much can you really read into etc. etc. etc.

Given the abject way they finished last season and the seemingly incalculable loss of Harry Kane’s goals and general influence in the summer, a season of improvement is a big win in itself. But they’ve got their season the wrong way round, haven’t they? If you’re going to finish fifth or sixth with 60-something points in the end, don’t start like Spurs did and win 26 of those points in the first 10 games. Much better to take the Chelsea approach of being rubbish for the first three-quarters of the season and then turn it on to hit the summer full of optimism and hope.

Spurs did still just about end up ahead of Chelsea by three points after today’s win, which is fine until you remember Spurs were 14 points ahead of them after 10 games. As always seems to be the case at Spurs, a big summer lies ahead that they need to get right if this is going to prove the start of something bigger rather than just another oh so Spurs false dawn. Which is what it does feel a little bit like right now.


16. Wolves having a player sent off by VAR was a bit lazy from the final-day writers’ room but you can’t knock it, can you? You come at VAR, you best not miss.