Premier League 2017/18 Season Review

And so, just like that, the Premier League season is over. Though it may not have been a classic, there have still been some joyous moments along the way, and with the final ball kicked yesterday, we’re going to take an opportunity to look back on our predictions, review each club’s season, and grimace at how laughably off the mark we were. We’ve also included a ‘Sleeper Hit’ for each side – one player who, against all the odds, played a big part in his team’s season – as well as the season defining game, for better or for worse. So kick off your shoes, get your flip-flops on, and drink in the denouement of the 2017/18 season.

 

Manchester City

Pre-season prediction: 1st
Mid-season prediction: 1st

What We Said Then
“Manchester City are an absolute force, competing on four fronts and looking like they may win every trophy going this season. It’s going to take a remarkable slice of luck – and it will purely be luck – to beat them this season, and a record points haul is surely on the horizon. Simply astonishing.”

What We’re Saying Now
A record points total, most goals in a Premier League season, most wins in a Premier League season, 5+ goals on six occasions, and the title all but wrapped up by Christmas. It’s been the most dominant of league wins by Pep Guardiola’s side who, though they’ve fallen short of Arsenal’s invincibles record, surely warrant their place among the pantheon of the Premier League’s greats. Plenty of criticism has been thrown their way regarding the amount of money spent to assemble this squad (ironically much of it from Manchester United fans), but money doesn’t always translate into success (ask Peter Ridsdale). City have still managed to play scintillating football for 95% of the season, and they finish it worthy champions. The next task, as well as conquering Europe, is securing that elusive title defence. 

Sleeper Hit Nicolas Otamendi
The Argentinian hasn’t had it all his own way in the North West, and until the arrival of Guardiola many thought City would be best writing his enormous transfer fee off and getting rid. Pep persevered however and, though the former Valencia stopper still has mistakes in his game, this season he’s blossomed into the model ball-playing defender. With an average of 90.4 per game, Otamendi tops the chart for passes, and his position as an ever-present along a revolving cast of defensive partners singles him out as Guardiola’s main man at the back.

Season-Definer  Manchester City 4-1 Tottenham Hotspur
While an early season shoeing of Liverpool was put down to the dismissal of Sadio Mane, and a tight win at Old Trafford had been secured a fortnight earlier, this was the game in which City looked peerless. The opening stages of the match suggested Tottenham might fancy nicking a result at the Etihad, but a second half blitz from the irrepressible Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling blew the visitors away, and opened up an eleven point lead at the top for Pep’s men.

 

Manchester United

Pre-season prediction: 2nd 
Mid-season prediction: 2nd

What We Said Then
“The long and short of it is than Manchester United are a very very good team. They’re just not as good as Manchester City. Provided they can maintain motivation in the second half of the season, they should be able to cling on to second place. After all, that would be progress.”

What We’re Saying Now
As the saying goes, no-one remembers second best, though for neutrals it will be difficult to find a more forgettable runner-up in the Premier League era than this Manchester United team. In the opening weeks of the season it looked as though Jose Mourinho might give his sparring partner across Manchester a decent run for his money in the title race, but once United’s 100% run was ended by Stoke (yes, Stoke), the Red Locomotive began to slow up. Negative tactics in big games quickly engulfed the conversation surrounding Mourinho, and before long it was open season on his star players, with Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba bearing the brunt of the criticism. In order to mount a serious title challenge next season, Old Trafford needs to be sprinkled with a little bit of stardust. If not, Jose could find that three-year itch return with a vengeance.

Sleeper Hit Alexis Sanchez
When the Chilean chose Salford over Manchester at the eleventh hour, it looked as though United had pulled off a major coup – particularly as they’d engineered a deal in which the unfancied Henrikh Mkhitaryan would depart to North London in lieu of a transfer fee. While Sanchez’s Manchester United career has yet to fully take off, he’s provided pivotal displays – notably at the Etihad and in the FA Cup semi-final – that have lit up a drab season. Perhaps with an actual summer holiday (his first since 2013) and some much needed rest and relaxation, Sanchez can be the man to provide a much needed spark next season.

Season-Definer Manchester United 0-1 West Bromwich Albion
Year one of the Mourinho project at Old Trafford was blighted by performances and results against so-called ‘lesser’ teams that were a far-cry from the Manchester United we’ve all grown to know and hate. Rather than grinding out single goal wins, or more often than not blowing teams away and racking up the scoreline, Mourinho’s side were letting slender leads slip and allowing the likes of Stoke (yes, Stoke) to take points away from the  Theatre of Dreams. That looked to have been remedied somewhat this year and, riding high off an incredible comeback to beat neighbours Manchester City at the Etihad to prevent them securing the title, United welcomed a doomed West Brom, who found themselves on the brink of relegation. Two hours later, and the Baggies were still afloat, while City had won the title. Though in many ways, it was the ideal scenario. Better to take that moment of glory away out of the hands of your local rivals isn’t it? Maybe? Anyone?

Tottenham Hotspur

Pre-season prediction: 4th
Mid-season prediction: 4th

What We Said Then
“…Tottenham may just about have enough quality to pip their rivals to a qualification place. The impending return of Toby Alderweireld will be massive for Pochettino, while Harry Kane looks unlikely to stop scoring any time soon.”

What We’re Saying Now
In the end, Spurs secured a Champions League place with a little bit to spare, despite being far from their best for long spells of the season. A sticky spell in November meant any kind of title-tilt was out of the question, but defeats home and away to Manchester City sandwiched a sensational run of results, with draws against West Ham and Southampton the only low points between mid-December and mid-April. An eleven day run including wins at home to Manchester United and Arsenal and a draw at Anfield proved Spurs’ ability to go toe-to-toe with the rest of the top six, and a first win at Stamford Bridge since 1990 was the icing on the cake. They still look a way off challenging City at the top of the league, and there are question marks over some recent signings, but Mauricio Pochettino has secured Tottenham’s foothold in the top four as they head to a new home.

Sleeper Hit Davinson Sanchez
Though he arrived for £42m, Sanchez was expected to be gradually introduced into the Tottenham defence, learning his trade in England from Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld before slowly replacing the aging Belgians. Thanks to a major injury to the latter, however, Sanchez found himself thrust into regular first-team action, and has dealt with the challenge magnificently. Pacy, intelligent, and with bundles of upper-body strength to boot, the Columbian looks right at home in a Premier League back four, and as the youngest defender with 20+ league appearances this season, he can consider 17/18 an auspicious start to his Spurs career.

Season-Definer Tottenham Hotspur 4-1 Liverpool
A lot had been made pre-season of Tottenham’s so-called ‘Wembley Curse’, after last season’s disastrous European campaign had seen just the solitary home win, in a dead rubber against CSKA Moscow. Chelsea’s victory at Wembley in the second week of the season was no real cause for alarm – they were the reigning champions after all – but a late Chris Wood equaliser and a frustrating goalless draw against Swansea did nothing to quell superstitions. Thankfully a narrow win against Bournemouth broke Tottenham’s Wembley duck, though a much sterner test would arrive in the shape of Liverpool a week later. Thanks in no small part to Dejan Lovren’s flatulent cerebellum, Spurs blew the Reds away in the first half, racking up three goals and coming close to a few more. Spurs would only drop another seven points at home all season after this game.

 

Liverpool
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Pre-season prediction: 5th
Mid-season prediction: 5th

What We Said Then
“With the firepower they have at their disposal you would expect Liverpool to have a real go at the top four this season, though a couple of ill-timed injuries may put the kaibosh on those ambitions. Besides that, they look flakier than your nan’s sausage rolls at the back, and until a better defence is assembled there’s always a chance they’ll let a soft one in.”


What We’re Saying Now

£75m seemed a lot of money to splash out on a centre-back from a struggling Premier League side, but the arrival of Virgil Van Dijk shored up Liverpool’s backline, and the added freedom it allowed Jurgen Klopp’s forward line saw the Reds benefit at both ends of the pitch. Van Dijk helped his new teammates collect eight clean sheets in the second half of the season, while the electrifying front three of Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane helped themselves to the lions share of 78 goals – Liverpool’s second highest haul since 1990. A quick word on Salah – at the beginning of the season we judged him to be ‘the kind of player you’d both love and hate on your five-a-side team: bags of skill but prone to greediness’. Watching as the Egyptian sets a new Premier League goalscoring record with 32 in his first term at Anfield has left us was copious amounts of egg on our face.

Sleeper Hit  Andrew Robertson
There were question marks over whether the young Scot could make the step up from relegated Hull City to a top four challenge when Liverpool parted with £8m to secure his signature last summer. Klopp clearly had reservations of his own, preferring one-man calamity factory Alberto Moreno at left-back in the opening weeks of the season. When Robertson was finally given his chance in the first team, he grasped it with both hands, and has even found himself rested in recent weeks in order to remain fresh for crucial Champions League ties. Racking up five assists and one goal, as well as providing an outlet up and down the left flank and allowing Mane to cut inside, those pre-season doubts have proved unfounded, and Robertson will play a key part in a likely title-tilt next season.

Season-Definer Liverpool 4-3 Manchester City
The Champions-elect arrived at Anfield in January unbeaten, with talk of Pep Guardiola leading Manchester City to an invincible season growing by the week. The second longest unbeaten streak in the Premier League belonged to Liverpool, and on a dark and bitter Sunday afternoon on Merseyside, the two most exciting sides in England went head-to-head. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s ninth minute strike was cancelled out just before half-time by Leroy Sane, before a nine minute spell in the second half saw Liverpool blow City away. Firmino’s deft chip over Ederson was followed by a rasping finish from Mane, before a rare mistake from City’s custodian allowed Salah to chip a fourth in from thirty yards, leaving Guardiola staring down the barrel of defeat. There was still time for the visitors to pull two goals back as the Reds’ famous defensive jitters set in, but Klopp’s side hung on for a famous victory.

 

Chelsea

Pre-season prediction: 3rd
Mid-season prediction: 3rd

What We Said Then
“The title defence is all but over, but Chelsea have more than enough quality in their squad to hold on to their Champions League place. Question marks over the future of Conte have not helped their cause so far this season, but if the hyperactive Italian does abdicate come the end of the season the Blues may face a period of uncertainty.”

What We’re Saying Now
Having spent most of the first half of the season occupying the spot behind the two runaway Manchester sides, it looked for all the world that Chelsea’s title-defence wouldn’t go the way of Leicester City’s last season (or Chelsea’s own the year before). Ructions behind the scenes in January put paid to that however, and after spending a month pursuing every English striker with a heading attribute score above 15 like they were playing Championship Manager 2, back to back defeats against Bouremouth and Watford suggested something was rotten in the borough of Kensington. A double header in Manchester brought two further defeats, both accompanied by uninspiring performances, and by mid-March the Blues had fallen outside of the Champions League qualifying places, never to return. Received wisdom suggests that Antonio Conte will take leave of Stamford Bridge after the FA Cup final, giving him one more opportunity to bow out on a high note after a season of frustration.

Sleeper Hit Olivier Giroud
The reaction of Arsenal fans to the sale of Giroud to their local rivals gave Chelsea fans plenty of encouragment that £18m had been well spent, and while the preening Frenchman had to make do with establishing an intimate relationship with another substitutes bench, he certainly made an impact when called upon. Two goals from the bench against Southampton turned the game at St Mary’s around, reigniting Chelsea’s interest in the top four, and the winner against Liverpool proved Giroud’s ability as a big-game player, not to mention his sublime effort in the FA Cup semi-final to put Chelsea on their way to a showdown with Manchester United. Whether the Four Seasons’ most loyal customer will be around next season to fight for his place in the starting line-up largely depends on Conte’s successor, but any doubts surrounding his ability have been put to bed.

Season-Definer Chelsea 1-3 Tottenham Hotspur
For Chelsea fans some things in life are simple. A spade is a spade, Brexit means Brexit and Spurs at home = three points. It had been 28 years since Gary Lineker scored the winner in Tottenham’s last win at Stamford Bridge, and regardless of their upturn in fortunes in recent seasons, winning in West London was still one hump Spurs had yet to get their leg over. A win for either side would put them in the driving seat for a top four finish, and when Alvaro Morata’s opened the scoring on half an hour, it seemed as though a familiar script was about to play out. Christian Eriksen’s devastating strike on the stroke of half-time levelled the scores, but there was still confidence in the stands that the hosts would get the job done in the second half. As it happened, Spurs came out swaggering and two goals in four minutes from Dele Alli, both scored on the counter, put the game to bed, and with it Chelsea’s dominance of London.

Arsenal

Pre-season prediction:6th
Mid-season prediction: 6th

What We Said Then
With Sanchez and Ozil being courted by the two Manchester clubs, and Alexandre Lacazette yet to earn the full trust of his manager there’s still every opportunity for the Gunners to balls this up. Their traditional Easter collapse is still very much on the cards.”

What We’re Saying Now
The narrative of Arsenal’s season was following the familiar script – hope, expectation, despair, Wenger is Arsenal’s Mugabe, hope, joy, despair, protest, blud blud fam blud fam, acceptance – until 20th April, two days before the visit of West Ham, when Arsene Wenger announced that he would be stepping down as manager at the end of the season. Suddenly the landscape of the season changed and, though they failed to make the Europa League final, Arsenal aren’t in a terrible position. Sure, depending on who they choose to replace the habitual Frenchman, it may be sometime before the Gunners mount a serious title bid again, but Wenger leaves behind the makings of a decent squad, and in his 22 years has overseen a gigantic shift in the culture of Arsenal Football Club for the better. But if you don’t love him at his Tony Adams securing the title with a volley, you don’t deserve him at his losing at home to Swansea three seasons out of four.  

Sleeper Hit Danny Welbeck
Dat Guy just refuses to go away. Much maligned for not being Thierry Henry or Robin Van Persie, Welbeck continues to work hard, plug away and pop up with important goals when necessary. After spending much of the season injured, Welbeck returned in April to score vital goals in the Europa League, as well as two goals to win the game against Southampton. While he might not possess the striking quality of Alexandre Lacazette or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Welbeck has plenty to offer this team, and Wenger’s replacement would be a fool to discard him.

Season-Definer Arsenal 0-3 Manchester City
Arguably the beginning of the actual end for Arsene. Four days after a meek display against the same opposition in the League Cup final, Wenger’s side surrendered once more to Manchester City, played off the park at the Emirates and unable to lay a glove on a team that had clearly left them behind. The official attendance for the game is listed as 58,420, but a sea of red seats told its own story. Yes, it had been snowing, but when Watford arrived ten days later and those same seats were still empty, the message to the powers that be was loud and clear. Seven weeks later, Arsene had been encouraged to jump before he was pushed, with the timing of the announcement allowing supporters to return to their seats and bid their long-term manager one final adieu.

 

Burnley

Pre-season prediction: 18th
Mid-season prediction: 8th

What We Said Then
“While they may not possess the quality in the squad to maintain a battle for the top four, it’s difficult to look past them securing a top half finish at a canter. Dyche has his team well-drilled and this could finally be the year he stakes his claim as a top class manager.”

What We’re Saying Now
Credit where credit is due, Sean Dyche and his team have had a tremendous season. It may have only fleetingly been pretty, and they may have averaged less than a goal a game, but in a league divided by the haves and have-nots, little old Burnley, that industrial powerhouse of the north, have finished the best of the rest, and will embark on an unforgettable European adventure next season. Much of the work was done in the first half of the season, with 34 points racked up by new year, but even after a tricky spell when it looked as though the Clarets were about to slide towards mid-table mediocrity, Dyche picked his team up and went again, with a five game winning streak at the beginning of Spring cementing their place in seventh. What the future holds for Dyche and Burnley remains to be seen, but the chance to pit their wits against some of Europe’s best offers a tantalising prospect for Old Wormchops.

Sleeper Hit Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson
Plenty of praise has been rightly lavished on Burnley’s backline, particularly goalkeeper Nick Pope and centre-backs James Tarkowski and Ben Mee, but Burnley might have been chasing thirty-eight consecutive 0-0 draws were it not for their Icelandic winger. With plenty of aim for in the middle in the shapes of Ashley Barnes, Sam Vokes and Chris Wood, Guðmundsson could hardly ask for better targets, but his delivery has provided eight goals for the Clarets this term, putting him on a par with the likes of Riyad Mahrez and Mesut Ozil. Weighing in with two goals of his own, the former Charlton Athletic man has played a part in over a quarter of Burnley’s goals this season. Not bad for a man that barely gets a mention.

Season-Definer
Burnley 2-1 Everton
Everton arrived at Turf Moor looking to catch an ailing Burnley side, who’d embarked on an eleven game run without a win between December and the end of February, though remarkably hadn’t fallen lower than 8th in the table. Falling behind to an early Cenk Tosun goal, Dyche rallied his team and Burnley did what Burnley do best, using sheer brawn to achieve results. Barnes and Cook scored the goals to turn the game around, and thus began the Clarets march to Europe, winning the next four and leaving the chasing pack in their dust.

Everton

Pre-season prediction: 7th
Mid-season prediction: 9th
 

What We Said Then
“They may not play beautiful football with Big Sam at the helm, but Everton 2.0 are organised, functional, and able to take results as and when they need them. Rooney is on course for a vintage season and there are some excellent players in the squad that are yet to reach their potential.”

What We’re Saying Now
It’s been a strange one. Pre-season plenty of pundits, including us, were tipping Everton for 7th after what looked like a productive transfer window. After a difficult start to the season, the sacking of Ronald Koeman and the ultimately fruitless courtship of Marco Silva, the appointment of Sam Allardyce appeared to be a case of any port in a storm, provided its accompanied with a generous cheeseboard. In spite of decent results and an altogether satisfactory final league position, the Goodison faithful have become increasingly restless across the season, largely due to the lardy gobshite in the dugout. Unfortunately for Allardyce, above a certain level, he is an unlovable manager who plays whatever the opposite of sexy football is, and even worse he presents himself as a man completely oblivious to the fact. Though he’s still got another year to run on his contract, plenty of Everton supporters will be surprised and dismayed to see him littering the touchline with spit-filled chuddy come the start of next-season. If he is, expect another cloudy year on Merseyside.

Sleeper Hit Cenk Tosun
At £27m Tosun didn’t come cheap, and after forking out over £100m in the summer, Farhad Moshiri could have been forgiven for balking at the price, particularly after the Turk’s first few performances. Slowly but surely, though, Tosun adapted to the Premier League, and has played a massive part in Everton’s resurgence towards the end of the season, and their respectable final league position. Having opened his account in the defeat at Burnley, Tosun has scored crucial goals to secure points against Stoke, Brighton, and Huddersfield, and perhaps most importantly for his manager, fits the profile of an Allardyce striker. An absolute nuisance from crosses and long-balls, with plenty of weight to throw around. If Big Sam stays, expect the former Besiktas man to benefit.

Season-Definer Everton 0-0 Chelsea
While it hadn’t been particularly pretty, Allardyce’s reign at Everton had begun well, with three wins and a draw in the Merseyside derby from his opening four games. The visit of the Champions to Goodison would provide a stern test, but the Toffees headed into the hectic Christmas period with a creditable point. The scoreline only told half the story however, as this game began a remarkable run in which Everton failed to register a shot on target in three out of five fixtures. Understandably these performances left the locals restless, and the anti-Allardyce feeling from the stands never really went away.

 

Leicester City

Pre-season prediction: 11th
Mid-season prediction: 7th

What We Said Then
“Under Puel, the Foxes look a serious threat to the sexopoly currently dominating the top of the Premier League table. Keeping hold of Riyad Mahrez is a must – the Algerian has rediscovered some of the form that won him the PFA Player of the Year award in 2016, but is allegedly looking for a move – though the emergence of Demarai Gray and Wilfred Ndidi has lightened the burden on Mahrez and Vardy somewhat”

What We’re Saying Now
The cruel thing about time is that the further away something gets the sweeter it seems, and as a consequence the present is viewed in much harsher focus. The Past! The Past! My Kingdom for the Past! None of that here, please. Shakespeare has been and gone, and his successor may well be on his way. Leicester are in purgatory. For the first time since their return to the Premier League in 2014, they were neither fighting relegation nor pulling off the story of the century, and the comfort of mid-table has grown old rather quickly. Whispering Claude enjoyed a spectacular start to his Leicester career, losing one of eight and dragging the Foxes to the outskirts of the European places. Then, inconsistency set it, but as the chances of a high placing in the league faded, a run in the cup began, and goodwill continued to flow around the King Power. As soon as that was over, Puel landed with a bump, and now, having achieved his second consecutive mid-table finish with a mid-table club, he looks as though he might be out on his ear. Success, it seems, is addictive, and its gone to the Foxes heads.

Sleeper Hit Vicente Iborra
The Spaniard arrived at the beginning of last season to add some continental know-how in preparation of the Foxes Champions League campaign. It’s safe to say his time in the East Midlands hasn’t been a roaring success, but the departure of Danny Drinkwater brought the need for a deep lying playermaker this time out, and when called upon Iborra has provided the ideal foil for Leicester’s counter-attack. Three goals is a perfectly acceptable return for a bit-part player, and one wonders whether the likes of Wilfred Ndidi would benefit from his experience should the former Sevilla man ever be given an extended stay in the first team. Perhaps we’ll never know.

Season-Definer Leicester City 1-2 Chelsea (FA Cup Quarter-Final)
Claude Puel had courted controversy after the Foxes League Cup exit to Manchester City, as the Frenchman named a weakened side when his first eleven might have pushed the eventual winners all the way. Those squad players were given plenty more game time in Leicester run to the quarters of the FA Cup, as three kind draws pitted them against Fleetwood Town, Peterborough and Sheffield United, but come the visit of Chelsea, Puel named his strongest team, and pre-match the feeling was that the Foxes could oust Antonio Conte and co. come the game however, Puel’s defence-first tactics left his team on the backfoot and, despite taking the Blues to extra-time, Chelsea’s edge in quality won out. With Leicester winning just two more games for the rest of the season, this looks like the game that signaled the end of Puel’s honeymoon, and in effect his time at the King Power.

Newcastle United
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Pre-season prediction: 15th
Mid-season prediction: 17th

What We Said Then
“Much depends on the investment in the first team in January and whether Ashley finally relinquishes his vice-like grip on Newcastle United, but with Benitez in the dugout they’ve always got a chance of getting a result. The Spaniard has a knack of grabbing a result when it really counts, particularly against West Ham, but there’s every chance Newcastle’s survival bid will go right down to the wire.”

What We’re Saying Now
In the end Newcastle achieved safety with plenty to spare, with the beginning of their resurgence arriving just after our half-term report, helpfully. A run of top-six form between January and mid-April saw the Toon pull themselves away from danger, and achieved with just three January additions, all of whom arrived on-loan. Unearthed gem Martin Dubravka, a 29 year-old Slovakian goalkeeper plucked from Sparta Prague, came in and shored up Newcastle’s backline, while Chelsea’s Brazilian winger Kenedy provided a much-needed injection of flair and creativity, winning a penalty and providing an assist on his debut, and never looking back. Islam Slimani even played his part in two vital goals before a moment of petulance saw him received a retrospective ban, but by then the hard work had been done. For a side touted by many as ‘Championship Level’, a mid-table finish is a fine achievement. Now, once again, the ball is in Mike Ashley’s court.

Sleeper Hit Mohammed Diame
Starting the season as a second-choice ‘number ten’, the nadir of Diame’s Newcastle career arrived during the visit of Everton, where large pockets of St James’ Park sarcastically cheered his substitution after another poor shift from the former West Ham man. All this came just six weeks after a training ground bust-up with captain Jamal Lascelles, and all signs appeared to point towards the exit for the Senegalese midfielder. Fast forward four months, and a shift back into central midfield alongside Jonjo Shelvey, and Diame has become a new man. Charged with breaking up play, covering ground and feeding his midfield partner, Diame began to put in exceptional performances, with his man of the match display against Arsenal the pinnacle of his season. With the midfielder turning 31 in the summer, there are question marks over whether he can maintain this level of performance for another season, but after a difficult start to life on Tyneside, the fact he’s even in the first team picture is a testament to his determination.

Season-Definer Newcastle United 1-0 Manchester United
The Magpies form had taken a turn for the better in 2018, but they headed into a tough game against second placed United having just dropped into the bottom three. With Dubravka making his debut in goal, what followed was an organised, gutsy performance from Rafa Benitez’s side, with the new man in nets pulling off a string of impressive saves, and Matt Ritchie scoring the decisive goal to lift Newcastle out of trouble. It would also spark a run of 16 points from 7 games that would ultimately see them safe.

Crystal Palace

Pre-season prediction: 9th
Mid-season prediction: 11th

What We Said Then
“Two months into the season Palace looked dead and buried, but their resurgence under Roy has catapulted them from relegation certainties to mid-table challengers. They won’t have it all their own way this season, but as Hodgson has shown at Fulham and West Brom in the past, a tactically sound manager can take a limited squad a long way.”

What We’re Saying Now
Well that was a season of four quarters. After the horrendous start under Frank De Boer, Roy the Boy arrived to steady the ship and at the turn of the year it looked like being plain sailing for Palace. Not so, as it turned out, and another winless run of seven plunged the Eagles right back in the mess. Fortunately, Hodgson could call upon one of the most talented squads in the bottom half, as well as the kindliness of the Premier League’s referees (Palace received ten penalties across the season, two more than any other side), and a run of four wins in seven put them on course for a mid-table finish. Keeping the nucleus of this side together will be Hodgson’s next big task, and if he does you wouldn’t bet against the Eagles challenging for a top eight finish next season.

Sleeper Hit Roy Hodgson
The Croydon-born coach has gone back to his roots and left all that nasty England business behind, reminding everyone why he was given the national team job in the first place. While it hasn’t been the smoothest of rides for Hodgson this season, the remit was survival, and he’s achieved that with style. Undoubtedly he’ll be looking to emulate his acheivements with Fulham and take his boyhood club into Europe, and besides a touch of inconsistency, there doesn’t seem to be a great deal standing in his way.

Season-Definer Crystal Palace 2-1 Chelsea
Played 7, Lost 7, Scored 0, Conceded 17. The perfect antidote to a nightmare start for Palace turned up at Selhurst Park in the unlikely form of the Premier League champions. Chelsea arrived hanging onto the coattails of the two Manchester clubs, who’d both flown out of the traps, but would have fancied their chances to keep pace with three points against the basement club. It wasn’t to be, as Roy waved his magic wand and let Wilfried Zaha loose on Conte’s backline, with the Ivorian winger orchestrating the Eagles’ first goal of the season, before scoring a decisive second to breathe life into the South-East Londoners. Though they only picked up a point from their next three games, this result was the catalyst for Palace’s remarkable comeback, and by December they’d clawed their way out of the bottom three.

Bournemouth

Pre-season prediction: 12th
Mid-season prediction: 15th

What We Said Then
“Eddie Howe’s side have so far gone under the radar when it comes to talking about the relegation battle at the bottom of the table, but if they’re unable to start turning some of their draws into wins they’re going to be right among it come the end of the season. It’s looking like this time round, however, the incompetence beneath them may be their saving grace.”

What We’re Saying Now
Bournemouth can now consider themselves well entrenched in Premier League mid-table mediocrity after their third season of consolidation. Considering Eddie Howe is still largely working with the team that helped the Cherries gain promotion in 2015, and in the case of defensive stalwarts Simon Francis, Steve Cook and Charlie Daniels the side that gained promotion from League One in 2012, its no mean feat. Yes, £30m and a big old chunk of change was shelled out on fees and wages to add Asmir Begovic, Nathan Ake and Jermain Defoe to the squad last summer, but much like Tony Hayers, Howe’s motto is evolution, not revolution. Though the side from the south coast may have flirted on the outskirts of a relegation battle for most of the season, they were never really considered candidates for the drop, and with a few more quality additions in the summer, Howe will be hoping to challenge further up the league next season.  

Sleeper Hit Ryan Fraser
The young Scot had already shown flashes of his quality in the past two seasons, but this year he came of age, racking up 22 league starts to suggest he’s now one of Howe’s main men. That faith shown by his manager has been rewarded, and five goals and three assists is a decent return, particularly since those goals played a part in the Cherries picking up eight points, from a player who promises to get better with Premier League experience. Given Howe’s propensity to stick with his trusted players, next season could be a biggie for the wee winger from the Dee.

Season-Definer Bournemouth 2-2 Crystal Palace
The Cherries made a habit of coming from behind this season, doing so on no fewer than ten occasions, and taking eighteen points from losing positions across the campaign. Their latest comeback all but secured Premier League survival against a shaky Palace side at Dean Court. Ten minutes after Lys Mousset had equalised Luka Milivojevic’s goal, Wilfried Zaha restored the visitors lead, and it looked as though a tricky run-in lay in wait for Howe and co, but Josh King’s 89th minute equaliser – the thirteenth time they’d scored in the final fifteen minutes of a game this season – was enough to nick a point and prevent the Eagles from closing the gap.

West Ham United

Pre-season prediction: 8th
Mid-season prediction: 12th

What We Said Then
“The Hammers have shown enough in recent weeks to suggest they’ll drag themselves away from trouble into mid-table safety. Owners David Gold and David Sullivan will be more than happy to splash the cash in January, but might want to have a word  with Ellis Short regarding Moyes’ ability in the transfer market.”

What We’re Saying Now
Where to start? The fans don’t like the stadium, or the manager, or the owners, or seemingly half the players, which is a far cry from their final season at Upton Park, sorry, the Boleyn Ground, when Dimitri Payet was the toast of East London, and happy Hammers were falling over themselves to buy Karren Brady a pot of jellied eels. Dubious legend Slaven Bilic was given the old heave-ho in November with such little foresight that the West Ham board were forced to appoint David Moyes as his successor, and the odds on the Hammers dropping into the Championship were immediately slashed. In fairness to the craggy-faced Scotsman, he eventually led the Londoners on a run of one defeat in ten which had them looking towards a top half finish, and despite recording three 4-1 defeats between February and May, relegation rarely looked a likely outcome. Still, fans will be hoping that the bizarre pitch invasion during a 3-0 home defeat to Burnley will have sent a message to the Dildo brothers, and despite the satisfactory completion of the job by Moyes, many will be hoping he’s shown the door this summer.

Sleeper Hit
Arthur Masuaku
Having established a reputation as some kind of novelty act, Masuaku was in danger of making this a season to remember for all the wrong reasons after receiving a six-game ban for spitting in a cup tie at Wigan. The wing-back returned with a vengeance however, and was instrumental in the win against Southampton and draw at Chelsea that put the Hammers on their way to safety.

Season-Definer
Manchester City 2-1 West Ham
The best thing that can be said about Joe Hart’s loan spell at the London Stadium is that it wasn’t quite as bad as his time at Torino. Call it coincidence, call it a damning indictment on the former England number one, but when he was ineligible to play against his parent club and Adrian returned between the posts, West Ham’s form took an almighty turn for the better. This was the game in which Moyes realised he wasn’t contractually obliged to pick Hart in goal, and after a spirited performance West Ham went on their best run of the season. Hart returned briefly, enjoying a Man of the Match display at Stamford Bridge before costing his side a goal in their following game – his fourth error leading to a goal this season.

 

Watford

Pre-season prediction: 14th  
Mid-season prediction: 10th

What We Said Then
“That excellent start to the campaign has given them a valuable cushion over the sides struggling at the bottom, though their current run of form will be a worry for Silva. If he can right the ship sooner rather than later then a mid-table finish will be more than satisfactory.”

What We’re Saying Now
It was a good job Marco Silva got off to such a brilliant start in the Vicarage Road dugout, because for two-thirds of the season Watford just weren’t very good. Talked about as outsiders for a European place by the end of November, a disastrous winter saw them fall into mid-table, and by the time Silva had been shown the door, having had his head turned by the blue half of Merseyside, the Hornets were sat just four points above the drop zone. Javi Gracia was drafted in to little fanfare, another name plucked from the Pozzo family rolodex happy to take on a gig for six months before being cast aside for a more attractive proposition. A swashbuckling victory over Chelsea in his first home game promised much,  but a run of one win in nine to end the season suggested the Gracia might have moved onto pastures new come the opening weekend of next season. He may not be alone either, as standout performers Richarlison and Abdoulaye Doucoure will surely receive a few tempting offers over the summer. We still can’t work out what Watford are, but then that’s hardly surprising given the Pozzo’s insistence on a revolving cast.  

Sleeper Hit Troy Deeney
Watford’s captain was something of a peripheral figure under Silva, with his most notable contribution in the first half of the season being the criticism of Arsenal’s collective genitalia. Under Gracia, with fellow striker Andre Gray misfiring, Deeney was welcomed back into the fold, and his three goals in four at the beginning of the Spaniard’s reign were enough to cement Watford’s place in mid-table. Back-to-back penalty misses took the shine off the Brummie’s resurgence somewhat, particularly as the first arrived at the Emirates, much to the glee of the home fans, but in the absence of a bank-busting superstar, Deeney remains Watford’s biggest threat.

Season-Definer Everton 3-2 Watford
The game that marked the beginning of the end for Marco Silva, as his confident Watford side crumbled against a rudderless Everton, being stewarded by youth coach David Unsworth. Two goals to the good after 64 minutes, the Hornets proceeded to gift the home side three goals, including a 91st minute penalty, before Tom Cleverly missed from the spot at the other end in the eleventh minute of stoppage time. Silva would then be approached by Everton after the game, and the Portuguese manager’s relationship with the Hertfordshire club would slowly begin to break down.

Brighton and Hove Albion
BRISWA

Pre-season prediction: 19th
Mid-season prediction: 16th
 

What We Said Then
“In Chris Hughton, the Seagulls have a steady hand on the tiller and aside from the pasting at home to Liverpool its unlikely they’ll be brushed aside by many teams this season. A knack of picking up points against the teams around them should be enough to see them safe, while the owners willingness to splash the cash can set the South Coast side up for more than just survival.”

What We’re Saying Now
The Seagulls did indeed splash the cash in January, breaking the club’s record transfer for a third time this season to bring in Dutch striker Jurgen Locadia from PSV Eindhoven, but in the end they didn’t need him. Making his team tough to beat was always going to be Chris Hughton’s priority, and besides a footballing lesson dished out by Chelsea in January, Brighton were competitive throughout the second half of the season. A five game unbeaten run that culminated in the victory over Arsenal injected a little hope into the ranks at the Amex, and while pundits and neutrals were looking at their run in with faces like one of those wiggly-mouthed emojis, Hughton and his side got on with the job in hand, taking five points from tricky ties against Spurs, Burnley and Manchester United to guarantee survival. With a modern stadium, a trustworthy manager, and the makings of a decent squad, there’s no reason Brighton can’t follow in the footsteps of their south-coast brethren and become Premier League mainstays.

Sleeper Hit Shane Duffy
Despite making a beeline for Richard Dunne’s all-time own goals record, it’s been Duffy’s defensive partner Lewis Dunk that has garnered the lions share of praise this season. The Irishman, however, has gone about his business quietly and competently, letting the stats speak for themselves. Being part of a busy defence is always likely to boost your reputation on paper, but there’s no denying the major part Duffy has played in the meanest backline of the bottom-half. Top for blocks, clearances and headed clearances (with over eighty more than second-placed Ahmed Hegazi), Duffy has developed into something of an immovable object, and his blossoming partnership with Dunk offers Hughton a solid foundation to build on next season.

Season-Definer Brighton 4-1 Swansea
Billed as something of a relegation six-pointer, a win for the in-form Swans would have lifted them above Brighton, and  more importantly plunged the Seagulls right into the relegation mix. As it turns out, the 30,000 fans crammed into the Amex had nothing to worry about, as Carlos Carvalhal’s slipped into holiday mode by the sea, throwing everything forward while negating to defend, and allowing Brighton to rack up four goals, including a first Premier League goal for Locadia.

 

Huddersfield Town

Pre-season prediction: 20th
Mid-season prediction: 14th

What We Said Then
“From the stands, through the dugout, to the pitch, everyone involved at the John Smith Stadium is committed to the cause and relishing every second of top flight football. In Jonas Lossl, Laurent Depoitre and Steve Mounie, Wagner has unearthed some gems – continental flair and a battling attitude. There’s no reason why the Terriers can’t live to fight another season in the top flight.”

What We’re Saying Now
A simply magnificent achievement for a side buried before a ball had even been kicked. Having got off to a flying start, it was a harsh winter for the Terriers, as a winless run from Christmas to February saw them fall into the bottom three. Back to back wins offered some Springtime solace, but the spectre of relegation continued to hang around like an unpopular uncle, and with sides below them picking up points, Huddersfield were expected to be the fall guys heading into the final knockings of the season. All credit to David Wagner and his side then, who confounded expectations by heading to tough fixtures at Manchester City and Chelsea, and grinding out the draws they needed to secure safety. Whether they’ll be able to repeat the trick next time out is a moot point – for now the manager and his team can celebrate a job well done, and stick two fingers up to their doubters.

Sleeper Hit
Matias Jorgensen
You’ve got to be pretty confident about your ability to insist on adopting the nickname ‘Zanka’ on the back of your shirt in England, and the Danish fullback has shown that ability in spades. By January he’d earned himself cult hero status with Terriers supporters after his ‘Zanka Claus’ initiative, buying every supporter who travelled to watch Town at Southampton a pint, while his perfomances on the pitch further warmed the hearts of Huddersfield fans. A man of the match performance in a battling stalemate at the Etihad only cemented his place in the hearts of the Yorkshire folk, and with an average of 6.3 clearances per game, he proved himself a vital cog in Wagner’s backline.

Season-Definer
Huddersfield Town 1-0 Watford
Winless in five and sliding perilously towards the bottom three, with a hellish run-in on the horizon, Wagner’s team knew that the visit of Watford was a must-win game. While as a spectacle it turned out to be one of the worst fixtures of the season, Terriers’ fans cared not a jot, as Tom Ince scored an all-too-rare goal in the first minute of stoppage time to steal the points for Huddersfield and keep their heads above water. Ultimately it would prove to be an invaluable win in Town’s bid for survival.

 

Southampton
swasou

Pre-season prediction: 10th
Mid-season prediction: 13th

What We Said Then
“They’ll not be pushing for a European place, nor embroiled  in a relegation scrap, but there’s very little for Southampton fans to cheer this season besides consolidation. Pellegrino quickly needs to stamp his identity on a team that look a shadow of their former selves.”

What We’re Saying Now
If Leicester were looking for a cautionary tale, then Southampton have kindly offered it. Be careful what you wish for. After jettisoning Claude Puel for a top eight finish and a cup final appearance, Mauricio Pellegrino arrived on the south coast immediately under pressure. For a while it looked as though Saints were headed for oblivion, until Ralph Krueger saw sense, disposed of the Argentinian, and brought in a bottom-half clogger to sort out the mess at St Mary’s. In the end Saints secured the back-to-back wins required to maintain their Premier League status, but now they’re lumbered with Mark Hughes going into next season. A seasoned manager at this level, yes, but surely a world away from the philiosophy that Southampton have been trying to foster since bringing Mauricio Pochettino to England back in 2013. They’ve still got a chunk of change from Van Dijk’s sale to put towards a squad facelift, but if supporters are expecting more than mid-table mediocrity next season they may be disappointed.

Sleeper Hit Alex McCarthy
Saints #1 Fraser Forster has been on a steady decline in the past couple of seasons, and having cost his side points with mistakes back in the opening months of 17/18, summer signing Alex McCarthy was thrust into the first team. Forced to play behind a weakened defence after the sale of Van Dijk in January, McCarthy has provided a much needed last line of defence at crucial moments in Southampton’s run-in, pulling off some vital stops during the win over Bournemouth, which puts Hughes’ side on the road to safety. Conceding 26 goals in 18 appearances may not sound like season-changing form, but it’s certainly favourable compared to Forster’s 1.5 goals a game average.

Season-Definer Newcastle 3-0 Southampton
The straw that finally broke an incredibly patient camel’s back. With three points offering an escape route out of the relegation dogfight for the winners, Saints’ trip to the North East was pinpointed as a potentially defining moment in one side’s season. In fact it turned out important for both, as Newcastle secured the points at a canter thanks to an electric display from Kenedy, while the manner of Southampton’s surrender finally convinced the powers that be to pull the trigger on Pellegrino. With one win in seventeen and the team entrenched in the bottom three, it became clear at St James Park that the Saints players were no longer responding to Pellegrino’s methods, and 24 hours after this defeat the manager was sacked. Ironically, in Hughes’ first game in charge, away at a fellow relegation contender, Southampton posted another dismal display in a 3-0 defeat at West Ham, but the Welshman would go on to galvanise his players in a way Pellegrino never looked likely to.

 

Swansea City

Pre-season prediction: 16th  
Mid-season prediction: 20th

What We Said Then
“They don’t create enough chances, they don’t score enough goals, and they aren’t solid enough at the back to grind out results. A new manager bounce may give them hope of survival, but they’ll need more than that to claw their way to safety.”

What We’re Saying Now
Huw Jenkins and the Swansea City owners love to roll the dice, but this season their luck finally ran out. Selling your two biggest assets in pre-season and replacing them with two rookies on loan is a bold move, but then these are the people that employed Bob Bradley for three months. Renato Sanches’ spell in south Wales was a disaster – he returns to Munich looking a tenth of the player advertised on his arrival – while piling the pressure of scoring goals onto the shoulders of 19 year old Tammy Abraham was never likely to reap rewards. Swansea’s problem was obvious from the outset of the season when, in their opening five games, they score two goals. Their ratio did improve across the season, but when you finish a campaign as the joint lowest scorers in the league, there’s every chance you’re going to get relegated. Not even Carlos Carvalhal’s Big Book of Analogies could save the Swans, and with a paucity of quality in their squad, it may be a while before we see them again.

Sleeper Hit Lukasz Fabianski
It’s a long time since the Polish goalie was just another face off the ‘Terrible Arsenal Goalkeepers’ production line, and though his team may have been plagued by relegation fears all season, the main reason Swansea took the fight to the final day was the form of Fabianski. Second in the tables of saves, behind Stoke’s Jack Butland, but having conceded twelve fewer goals, Fabianski’s often inspired performances looked like they might be enough to keep the Swans afloat in the second half of the season. Clean sheets at home to Liverpool and Burnley, and away at Huddersfield when his side were under siege and playing with ten men, earned Swansea crucial points, but unfortunately he wasn’t able to do it all himself, and the lack of attacking threat rendered the goalkeeper’s contribution meaningless. There will undoubtedly be plenty of suitors willing to take a chance on Fabianski in the summer, and we may be seeing him again soon.

Season-Definer Swansea City 0-1 Southampton

Dead and buried by Christmas, new manager Carvalhal had injected a bucketload of self-belief into the Swans, and had seen them soar up to 14th in the table after a run of just two defeats in ten. Then Jose Mourinho declared him Manager Of The Season and Swansea failed to win another game. By the time Southampton arrived at the Liberty in what amounted to a relegation playoff, Swansea had lost three on the bounce and looked gutless in their defeat at Bournemouth three days prior. Familiar shortcomings in the final third saw the hosts muster just three shots on target, and when Manolo Gabbiadini gave Southampton the lead with less than twenty minutes to go, the jig looked up for the Welsh side. A draw could at least have made the final day interesting, but defeat extinguished any reasonable hope of Swansea pulling an escape off.

 

Stoke City

Pre-season prediction: 17th  
Mid-season prediction: 19th

What We Said Then
“Though they continue to pick up wins when Hughes’ job begins to look unsafe, there’s something about this Stoke side that suggests they could fold like a pack of cards at any moment. If they’re to stay up they’ll need to address their defensive deficiencies quick smart, while a prolific striker might be top of the shopping list when the transfer window opens.”

What We’re Saying Now
Much like Southampton, Stoke City hung on to their manager for too long, allowing themselves to fall into a relegation scrap before finally pulling the trigger in January. Unlike Southampton, they were unable to call upon a seasoned scrapper like Mark Hughes because, well, they’d just sacked him, so instead were forced to sanction the most underwhelming managerial appointment of the season. There were times where it seemed Stoke were too good to go down – the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri and Jack Butland suggested no lack of quality in their squad, but when your options up front include a player who started the season at left-back, there’s every chance things aren’t going to go your way. In the end it was inertia that killed the Potters, though winning just twice from the turn of the year played its part too. Fortunately in Peter Coates they have an owner that possesses patience and a level head, and their ten year spell in the Premier League will give them a decent grounding to compete in the second tier. Provided they can find a decent striker of course.

Sleeper Hit Peter Crouch
That a 37 year old Peter Crouch is even getting enough game time to be considered one of Stoke’s best performers this season speaks volumes of the paucity of attacking options at the bet365 stadium. Still, with five goals this season, Crouchy has shown he still knows where the goal is these days, even if he’s slowly becoming better known for his (admittedly excellent) Twitter presence than his on-field ventures. All five of Crouch’s goals secured points for the Potters, with two late equalisers and two late winners securing six points that were the difference between ignoble humiliation and a bog-standard relegation. If he sticks around in Staffordshire he may yet have a big part to play in Stoke’s future. If not, then at least he’ll have more time to bring the #banter.

Season-Definer Hiring Paul Lambert
The oft-maligned Paddy Power regularly hit the headlines for their PR stunts, but in fairness to the Irish soul-suckers they got it bang on when paying out for Stoke’s relegation on the day Paul Lambert was appointed. Having made a name for himself at Wycombe Wanderers, Colchester and Norwich, Lambert’s stock fell quicker than the GBP after overseeing Aston Villa’s slow decline. It’s no coincidence that the likes of Alan Pardew, Roy Hodgson, Sam Allardyce and David Moyes were otherwise engaged when the Potters turned to Lambert – frankly options were scarce, and it was him or, heaven forbid, Steve McClaren. Initial signs looked good as Stoke beat Huddersfield in Lambert’s first game in charge, but with a run of winnable fixtures stretching out in front of him, the new man managed to take just four points from the next five games. Stoke wouldn’t win again until the final day of the season, a week after relegation had been confirmed. Perhaps they should have stuck by Hughes after all.

 

West Bromwich Albion

Pre-season prediction: 13th
Mid-season prediction: 18th

What We Said Then
“Even the famed Pardew Bounce is looking to have deserted West Brom, as their new manager struggles to get to grips with the job at hand in the West Midlands. A lack of goals will ultimately be the Baggies downfall this term, and its difficult to see anything other than relegation on the horizon.”

What We’re Saying Now

After watching their side hoof their way into the lower reaches of the league table in the opening months of the season, the consensus at The Hawthorns was ‘anyone but Pulis’. Big Tone had entrenched the Baggies with his own inimitable style of football, and frankly the locals were sick of craning their necks to follow their team. But at least Pulis got a result every now and then. Bringing in Alan Pardew, West Brom probably expected a bit of entertainment. Headbutting an opposition player here, calling an opposition manager a ‘fucking old cunt’ there, conducting the crowd’s singing of his name every now and again. But no, the streakiest manager in England couldn’t even muster one of his trademark new manager bounces, as the Baggies fell from relegation candidates to ‘Worst Premier League Team of All Time’ contenders. During Pardew’s tenure, West Brom won one game. They stole three taxis. By the time he was finally relieved of his duties, Pardew had lost eight in a row. The Baggies were certainly going down, but it probably couldn’t get much worse…


Sleeper Hit
Darren Moore
…And it didn’t. First Team coach and former Baggies defender Darren Moore stepped in as caretaker, and the visible lift it provided the players was immediate. The eight game rot was ended with a draw against Swansea in Moore’s first game, and West Brom would end the season with a five game unbeaten run, before losing at Crystal Palace after relegation had been confirmed. Owner Lai Guochuan will wonder what might have been, had Moore been given the opportunity to take over ahead of Pardew, as the Birmingham born coach clearly possesses the tactical acumen and motivational prowess to become a top-class manager. Wins at Manchester United and Newcastle, which may have seemed unthinkable under Pardew, underlined the effort Moore was able to extract from his players, and his Manager of the Month award for April was deserved recoginition for a remarkable turnourd. For the sake of the club, Moore surely must be given the job on a full-time basis.

Season-Definer
West Brom 1-0 Tottenham Hotspur

Though ultimately fruitless, a dramatic, surprising win against Champions League Tottenham served to give the Baggies a short stay of execution (they would be relegated three days later), but also served to underline Darren Moore’s ability to manage a game against a superior side. Moore set his defence up to stay compact, sit deep and allow Spurs to play the ball around, limiting them to shots from distance, before instructing his side to pour forwards in the final quarter of the game. Jake Livermore’s scrappy, stoppage time winner was no more than the Baggies deserved from a perfectly executed gameplan, and the image of Darren Moore kneeling on the touchline, the picture of calm and clarity, was one of the moments of the season. With regards to this campaign, the win against Spurs meant very little, but for the short term future of West Brom, it could be the moment Darren Moore secured the top job.

 

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