Read up on the Premier League 2019/20 season winners before tucking into these nerds.
The 2019/20 Premier League season: when Liverpool moved on and Brendan Rodgers could not. One has grown exponentially since the toxic breakdown in their relationship; the other feels destined to forever be defined by it.
Leicester had an excellent season. They won more games than Tottenham, scored more goals than Manchester United and conceded fewer than Chelsea. Records were broken. Boundaries were tested. Only four times in their entire history have they finished higher in England’s top flight.
But it should have been so much more. A 14-point Champions League qualification cushion in late January was treated as an excuse for a nap they never truly awoke from. The Foxes were 15 points and six places ahead of United after a 0-0 draw with Wolves in mid-February. That advantage was squandered within 12 games.
It is difficult to recall a more pronounced collapse outside of title races or relegation battles. And in ordinary circumstances, the playing and coaching staff would apportion the blame accordingly.
Yet any introspection should centre on Rodgers. That might seem harsh as Leicester started brilliantly and finished terribly, thus levelling out into a position typically beyond their means. The eighth highest wage bill in 2018/19 earned fifth place in 2019/20. But expectations are not fixed. They change to suit the situation. And this is not the first time Rodgers has punched so far above his weight he has tired himself out before the bell.
Leicester's 2019-20 season, as told by Brendan Rodgers: pic.twitter.com/EcKaWczZsq
— Mohamed (@MoeSquare) July 26, 2020
Though his coaching reputation has not been dented or damaged, it has been solidified. He is the ultimate fairweather manager: capable of putting together thrilling runs of form before wilting when the spotlight hits and the underdog tag is lost. Whether winning 11 straight games with Liverpool in 2014 or eight consecutive matches at Leicester in 2019, that changed the parameters and Rodgers could no longer keep up. That sort of trait sticks.
Many of these players had never experienced such a sharp change in projections from promising top-half team to European hopefuls, then title contenders. It must be a remarkably difficult adjustment to handle that pressure. The manager has no such excuse.
Even reaching cup quarter and semi-finals represents relative success for the club and stagnation for the coach. Losing at home to Chelsea and failing to beat Aston Villa over two legs further underlines the suggestion that Rodgers flatters to deceive when it matters outside of Scotland.
Maybe that’s unfair. There are certainly mitigating factors, such as injuries and squad depth. But they cannot account completely for such a collective failure in mentality. At any club, that stems from one man and filters down.
Even pointing out that the Europa League “will make us more robust” feels like straw-clutching. James Maddison and Ayoze Perez are the only regular Leicester first-teamers yet to feature in European competition. Resting players to beat Sivasspor and PAOK Salonika in the group stages, before losing to Nice in the knockouts, won’t have the impact he desires.
As it is, this was the perfect opportunity for Rodgers to prove himself capable of affecting momentum instead of simply riding the tide for better or worse. His chance to exorcise some of those demons from six years ago ends in hauntingly similar disappointment.
As of Monday lunchtime, the only official communication from Watford with regards to their Premier League relegation was from the captain, Troy Deeney, and caretaker manager Hayden Mullins.
The former spoke frankly, if not a little indulgently, about his and the club’s future. Those quotes appear top of the club’s website. The latter, as has become part of his job requirement, filled in the gaps he could. His words were the last thing Watford’s official account tweeted.
But at least they endured the court of public opinion. It should not fall on a 32-year-old striker playing through injury and in need of surgery, nor an interim coach, to shoulder that responsibility.
Gino Pozzo and Scott Duxbury would not have kept their counsel so diligently if the season had been a success. A message of celebration and thanks to the supporters at the very least would have been prompt. The minimum expectation in the face of failure is an apology and an explanation for the series of poor choices that led to this avoidable demise.
Why was Javi Gracia given a four-and-a-half-year contract in November 2018 before being sacked in September 2019? What caused Watford to make just three additions last summer to a squad that needed reinforcements in every area? How was Quique Sanchez Flores ever regarded as the answer? When did technical director Filippo Giraldi earn enough stock to seemingly influence the sacking of Nigel Pearson? Where will Watford end up in their current structure?
There is every chance that Deeney’s wish for Watford not to “be in the Championship for too long” will come to fruition. But with that squad likely to be picked apart, the coaching arrangement so uncertain and the culture of the club dictating that the buck always stops shortly before it reaches the boardroom, there is cause to look further down before they can glance upwards again. Bournemouth and Norwich seem well-equipped to cope with relegation; Watford do not.
It could yet end in European glory, but Pep Guardiola has rarely looked as vulnerable domestically as this season.
The League Cup was won, albeit at less than the usual canter. Arsenal earned victory over them in the FA Cup. And Guardiola has never been beaten so often in a league campaign as a manager.
Yet Manchester City scored the most goals, conceded only two more than Liverpool’s division-leading defence, had a record-breaking assist-maker, the Golden Glove winner and finished with the fourth-best goal difference in Premier League history.
The ingredients are mostly there; the recipe has just been lacking. City have looked eerily excellent at times but bizarrely fallible at others, with mistakes more prevalent than ever.
Guardiola finishing with 81 points same as Mourinho that year. Is Guardiola finished?
— Imoh Umoren (@TheImoh) July 26, 2020
While the truth may simply be that a third season of unremitting brilliance was an impossible dream, Guardiola cannot simply assume Liverpool won’t maintain this ferocious pace for the gap to close. They have to improve as much as the Reds must tail off.
Of particular concern will be City’s away form. All manner of opponents have beaten them on their travels, from an injury-hit Norwich to a dominant Liverpool, a disciplined Wolves and Southampton, and Chelsea and Tottenham teams far from their best.
Transfer fees alone cannot right some of those wrongs and a forgivable and explainable drop-off must be the anomaly. It has been a season of quiet and qualified failure, Europe notwithstanding.
Paul Merson and Phil Thompson finally have a definite two-word answer: Very little.
“What’s he know about the Premier League? What’s he know?” the former protested in January 2017, and while both used Marco Silva’s appointment at Hull as a tired excuse to claim “it’s just another slap in the face to British coaches and managers,” their critique of the Portuguese in particular resonates now.
He is finished in England. Silva is the youngest to ever manage three Premier League clubs and one of only five non-British or Irish coaches to do so. His reigns at Hull, Watford and Everton have lasted a combined 935 days, 108 games, 40 wins, 48 defeats and countless unidentifiable strategies and confused approaches. That record will go unchanged by the time of his retirement.
The parallels with Andre Villas-Boas are irresistible, even if the Marseille manager is inexplicably younger. That at least provides an example that the Premier League is not the be all and end all for any aspiring coach with ideas grander than anything they can properly formulate yet. Silva will be back, just not here.
If not now, then when?
Eddie Howe and those few above him at Bournemouth might privately be asking themselves that same question. The first genuine setback of his fragmented 11 years in charge on the south coast is bound to force some uncomfortable conversations.
The manager himself has been forthright in admitting he has not done enough this season; that certain problems have been allowed to fester over more than a couple of campaigns and blaming goal-line technology or a lack of luck is futile when winning two of your last 13 matches and spending £19m on Dominic Solanke.
Injuries have impacted Bournemouth to the extent that Callum Wilson and Jefferson Lerma were the only outfielders to start more than 30 Premier League games. That breeds inevitable inconsistency and instability.
But there have been as many mistakes as there are excuses. Howe and Bournemouth would be foolish to not at least consider an amicable break-up. Both manager and club could do with a fresh challenge and a chance to prove they can progress without the other. It does not take much for a comfort zone to become a convenient prison.
They have approached the season with a sensible long-term lens. It jars against expectation but the only interest Norwich have an obligation to serve is their own. Ensuring they have a club to support, play and work for in the future is a noble enough cause.
With that said, spending precious little cannot account for two goals scored and 12 defeats suffered in their final 14 Premier League games. Even Derby never lost ten consecutive games in 2007/08.
It remains to be seen just how much time was wasted with the unimaginative appointment of Unai Emery in May 2018 – Mikel Arteta is no guarantee of progression – but Arsenal are at an awkward crossroads.
Emery, and the issues he and Arsene Wenger allowed to fester, left an unbalanced squad behind in north London. If the Spaniard is right in claiming that Arsenal were considering renewing his contract last summer, that is as damning an indictment as any on how far standards have fallen and how desperately the hierarchy will cling to any form of positive.
Arteta has already changed that and introduced a new culture of unity, humility and sacrifice for the team. He might succeed on the pitch. He might not. But let it never be forgotten that Arsenal put themselves in a position where they left an interim manager in charge for almost an entire month with no support before calling on an inexperienced coach to replace him and rescue them. The long journey back is underway.
Their status as losers is tempered by the fact the literal Carlo Ancelotti manages them. But spending £120.5m to fall four places and still have Jordan Pickford as your first-choice goalkeeper is a special kind of negligence.
P27 W8 D9 L10 F37 A45
P19 W5 D5 L9 F28 A30
The first is the Premier League record of David Moyes in his first reign at West Ham from November 2017 to May 2018, in which he earned 1.2 points per game.
The second is the Premier League record of David Moyes in his second reign at West Ham from December 2019 to now, in which he earned 1.05 points per game.
West Ham would look stupid if they give him the job on the basis of the second record, having sacked him in spite of the first. West Ham would look stupid if they call on the same man to rescue them twice before discarding them at the first opportunity each time.
West Ham, as ever, would look stupid.
Another solid spell under Moyes at West Ham. Now he’ll target consistency with his own players after earning the faith of the board. Expect big changes this summer. Pellegrini’s flops will be out as the club look to raise the cash to revamp the squad.
— Darren Lewis (@MirrorDarren) July 26, 2020
He started the season in charge of the beaten Champions League finalists and ends it one year and almost two months later with most potential avenues ahead of him blocked off. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has succeeded at Manchester United, Zinedine Zidane is thriving with Real Madrid, Maurizio Sarri and Thomas Tuchel won their respective titles and remain in European competition with Juventus and PSG and Barcelona is a prospect he swore never to entertain.
One of the best managers in world football might genuinely be waiting on Newcastle’s takeover for a route back.
That didn’t quite go to plan, unless Tanguy Ndombele always intended to play 883 minutes for the manager that signed him, and 563 for the one that replaced him. Tottenham’s record signing completed 90 minutes four times for Mauricio Pochettino and only once for Jose Mourinho in his debut season in England.
It has been, by any measure, a mess of a season. That goal on the opening day could not feel further away and was a false representation of what Ndombele has brought to Tottenham.
His constant battle for fitness has been played out as much on the pitch as off it, with “disgrace” a kind assessment in comparison to what many Spurs fans would make.
All is not lost. Ndombele could still come good. But it will take so much effort to persuade Mourinho as such that he could be knackered again by the time he gets his chance. The midfielder has a pivotal summer ahead after a botched year.
You might earn more than Brighton but at least they’re allowed to play, fella.
A truly dreadful signing for two different clubs; a Premier League-winning career surely over, at least in the top flight.
You silly sod.
Anybody who doesn’t want to talk about VAR