The second part of this season review will focus on the teams that were competing for the Europa League places. Manchester United narrowly missed out on Champions League football, while Southampton and West Ham’s excellent seasons will see them join United in the Europa League. Liverpool managed to play their way out of the Europa League places, finishing 8th.
Manchester United – Final Position: 5th – Prediction: 3rd
Manchester United have had a season to forget in the league. The football that they have played has been, at times, abysmal. United only scored one more goal than 17th placed Sunderland, with only Anthony Martial reaching double figures in the league. To make matters worse, United’s big summer signings, Depay, Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger, all failed to live up to expectations. The only real positives for United fans will be the strength of the young players that stepped in this season, with Rashford, Fosu-Mensah, and Borthwick-Jackson all impressing.
United failed to kick on this season as I had expected, instead dropping out of the Champions League. Wayne Rooney failed to step up as the key goalscorer, partly down to the role that Louis Van Gaal was playing him. Jose Mourinho will have a tough job on his hands next season.
Southampton – Final Position: 6th – Prediction: 7th
Southampton’s season can be summed up by one word: inconsistent. A dodgy start was followed by a good run, before the Saints fell away around Christmas. But only Leicester picked up more points in 2016 than Ronald Koeman’s side. Their early exit from the Europa League possibly aided their league form, as Saints’ small squad was rarely stretched. The return Fraser Forster was one of the main positives of the season, Whilst comeback wins against Liverpool and Spurs will live long in the fans’ memories. It will be interesting to see whether Saints can replicate this season with a new manager next season, whilst it will remain to be seen whether the Europa League group stages will be enough to keep hold of the likes of Sadio Mane and Victor Wanyama.
Southampton surpassed all expectations in recording a club record sixth place. Instead of battling with the other higher mid-table teams, as predicted, a place in the Europa League looked fairly comfortable for the Saints.
West Ham – Final Position: 7th – Prediction: 14th
West Ham have had an amazing season this year, only falling out of the race for the Champions League places very late in the season. Dimitri Payet really set the Premier League alight with his remarkable free kicks and 12 assists, whilst Andy Carroll managed 9 goals despite an injury hit season. Draws turned out to be West Ham’s undoing, as they picked up the joint highest amount of draws, 14, in the Premier League.
Slavan Bilic and West Ham were an unknown quantity going in to this season, and they have pleasantly surprised everyone. Following ‘Big Sam’ was always going to be a tough job, but the future is looking bright for the Hammers.
Liverpool – Final Position: 8th – Prediction: 6th
It is difficult to judge Liverpool’s season this year, as very early on it became clear that the focus had switched to next year. The appointment of Jurgen Klopp in October showed a real sign of ambition, and it would not be right to judge him until he has brought in his own players and had a full pre-season with the club. Only Roberto Firmino hit double figures this season, and this really demonstrates how poor Liverpool were. A 4-0 derby win over Everton will be a highlight of this season, as well as beating Manchester City 4-1 and 3-0. Eighth place will probably be what Liverpool fans will be most happy with this season, as it means that they will be able to play without any European distractions next season, but they will be disappointed that their ‘Europa League or bust’ strategy was thwarted by Sevilla in the final.
In my pre-season predictions, I highlighted the importance of October on the course of their season, and this proved to be the case. On paper, Eighth will not look good for a side with the expectations of Liverpool, but you can expect them to challenge for the Champions League places next season.