Man Utd being ‘fixed’ and nine other things we got wrong this season

Erik ten Hag, Kai Havertz and Cole Palmer
Erik ten Hag, Kai Havertz and Cole Palmer

Sometimes we get things wrong. But we (almost) always put our hands up and admit Man Utd were not fixed, Kai Havertz has not flopped and…


10) Ivan Toney would return to feed the Arsenal narrative
We certainly never said that Arsenal should pay a transfer triple tax that was rumoured to be in the £80m bracket in September (in fact, we wrote exactly the opposite) but we certainly expected a whole load of ‘shoulda woulda coulda’ to be coming Arsenal’s way around now when Ivan Toney inevitably came back and scored a shedload of goals.

There was a lot of Big Dog talk around his comeback, in which he was treated as a returning hero rather than somebody who repeatedly broke the rules, and he did duly score. There were four goals in his first five games and then…nothing.

There have now been blanks in his last 10 Premier League games and even a pair of back-to-back wins without Toney. Suddenly his options look rather more limited (he will be lucky to get Tottenham) and his price tag has dropped to £40m.

And Arsenal? Well, they have scored more goals than Manchester City.


9) Wataru Endo was a stop-gap, bit-part solution
It felt like a panic buy and were not shy about hammering home that stance, even naming him in a list of pointless Premier League signings in October. But by December he was a key part of a winning team and fans bemoaned his absence at the Asian Cup, with the Liverpool midfield struggling against Arsenal in his absence.

He remained at the centre of that Liverpool midfield as they forged an unlikely title challenge through February and March. He tired as Liverpool faltered in April but he was definitely not a pointless signing. We can reserve that honour for Ryan Gravenberch, who really should not have played more than Harvey Elliott.

READ: 16 Conclusions on Salah, Ange, Elliott and the brilliant fun of Liverpool 4 Tottenham 2


8) Burnley would cruise while Luton would be the new Derby
Nobody thought Burnley would go down. Nobody at F365, nobody in the wider footballing media, nobody in Burnley. The biggest challenge thought to be facing the Clarets was keeping hold of Vincent Kompany; by the beginning of March the big question was whether they should sack him.

As a lesson in how not to handle promotion after a dominant season in the Championship, Burnley spent over £100m on a raft of new, young players, almost none of whom are now worth that money after a miserable season.

Meanwhile, Luton – touted as contenders for the ‘worst Premier League team ever’ crown of thorns – spent the square root of f*** all and are now two points better off. Both are likely to be relegated but they were never supposed to be anywhere close to equals.


7) Wolves were wandering straight into a relegation battle
They lost six of the 11 players who logged the most Premier League minutes for them last season. That included their two joint-top scorers, their assist leader (with two!) and their captain. It’s little wonder that Julen Lopetegui walked.

And when Gary O’Neil was his replacement, we largely wrote them off. We absolutely did not bargain on them unearthing two 10-goal strikers, and we were perhaps guilty of forgetting that Pedro Neto exists. Had he stayed fit they might even have managed more than a lower mid-table finish.


6) Erling Haaland would absolutely p*** his way to 30 goals again
To be fair, he could yet reach 30 Premier League goals, but we expected him to smash through that flimsy ceiling by early March, especially after eight goals in his first six games. But there was a slowing-down with blanks against Newcastle, Arsenal, Tottenham and Aston Villa prompting questions about flat-track bullying before injury forced a stop.

He is still very likely to win the Golden Boot – a four-goal blitz v Wolves pretty much confirmed that along with lots of other ridiculous stats – but he has only scored once against any Premier League team bound for the Champions League next season. Add blanks v Real Madrid and it has been as oddly disappointing as any 25-goal (so far) Premier League season could possibly be.


5) Tottenham were no longer Spursy
It’s a standard bit of F365 content that we construct/invent five reasons why early front-runners can win the Premier League. We listed some spurious Spurs reasons in late September after James Maddison declared the end of Spursiness. In hindsight, Maddison should really have waited more than six Premier League games to declare the end of something that has been in place for decades.

Now of course we did not believe that Spurs could win the Premier League (a month later we listed these reasons, which was a far easier task) but we definitely thought Ange Postecoglou had fixed enough of the issues for this to be a largely fun and chaos-free season. The vibes were good. We absolutely did not foresee the sh*t-show of four straight defeats in which Spurs would concede 13 goals and genuinely look like they had forgotten why 11 of them had gathered on that big old patch of green to follow around a ball.


4) Eddie Howe would pay for under-achievement with his Newcastle job
This was admittedly a little bit naughty. Starved of Premier League sackings, we were attracted like magpies to the glint of a season falling apart at Newcastle – they lost six of seven top-flight games either side of Christmas – and merrily banged a drum marked ‘Eddie Howe sack’.

But there were a great number of mitigating circumstances, with Newcastle losing the most minutes to injury this season even without Sandro Tonali’s ban. Nick Pope has been ruled out for the majority of the campaign while Sven Botman, Harvey Barnes, Joe Willock, Joelinton and others have all missed massive chunks of football.

Newcastle have gone backwards – fourth to sixth was never in their plans for world domination – but Howe remains at Newcastle United. We blame Manchester United for steadfastly refusing to sack Erik ten Hag; they forced us to look towards the north/Middle east.


3) Cole Palmer was yet another Chelsea mistake
We never exactly said as much but this looked like a ludicrous decision from somebody at Chelsea. And that somebody was not Mauricio Pochettino, who was open about yet another young wide forward not being his priority. “I think it was one the sporting directors and owners who had the ideas to bring him to the squad,” said the Argentine. We hope that he has since bought that man a drink.

Spending over £40m on a player on the very edges of Manchester City’s squad seemed like exactly the right kind of batsh*t transfer move that should take Todd Boehly past the £1bn spending mark. City very rarely get a sale wrong and their willingness to sell Palmer seemed to suggest that Pep Guardiola did not see him as a viable first-team option, even after the sale of Riyad Mahrez.

Absolutely nobody saw a 20-plus goal season coming on. And nobody predicted he would be a shoo-in for the England squad this summer.


2) Kai Havertz was a massive Arsenal floppity-flop in the making
Rasmus Hojlund was the overwhelming choice among F365 writers tasked with coming up with a flop of the season in their predictions, but I named Kai Havertz, largely because I had already written that he would be nothing but a marginal gain for Arsenal when they needed a great leap forward. And there’s nothing I like better than a supporting link.

I would probably still argue that the money might have been better spent on a striker (not Toney) but Havertz has been phenomenal in recent weeks, scoring eight Premier League goals and logging five assists in his last 12 games. Best used as a striker, Mikel Arteta’s biggest and most costly mistake of the season was playing Gabriel Jesus up front against Aston Villa when Havertz was right there.

He might have only been a marginal gain but he is a gain nevertheless. And absolutely not a flop.


1) Manchester United were essentially fixed
In those pre-season predictions, not a single one of us predicted a top four without Manchester United. They finally had a grown-up as manager who had cleared out (some of) the deadwood and (most of) the pr*cks. Hallelujah. United were back where they belonged – in the Champions League and in the top four, if not quite the title conversation.

Nope. Naive. The banter club still had a few jokes up its sleeve. Heard the one about the club that spent almost £200m in one summer and still ended up with Casemiro and Harry Maguire as their centre-halves?

After Crystal Palace embarrassed them the conversation has turned to whether it would be funnier to see Man Utd in the Conference League or out of European competition altogether. And there should be no doubt they have absolutely no agency over that, especially with that apparent grown-up in charge spending the entire season pretending conceding 20 shots a game is not only fine, but also his specific tactical plan. They might be more broken than ever and working from home isn’t the problem.

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