Premier League Season Review: Part 4

Part four of this season review looks at the sides that avoided a relegation battle. Watford and Crystal Palace started the season strongly before falling away, whilst Tony Pulis delivered what he does with West Brom. Bournemouth’s first season in the Premier League saw them avoid the relegation scrap in a fantastic season for them.

Watford – Final Position: 13th – Prediction: 19th

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Image: talksport

It was a season of two halves for Watford, who started very strongly. Going in to the new year they were still in the hunt for the European places, but their form fell off drastically as they dropped down to 13th. Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo both hit double figures, but other than that there were very few goalscorers. Many will see Quique Sanchez Flores’ dismissal as harsh, as the newly promoted team established themselves in the Premier League without having to worry about relegation. However, you have to trust the Watford owners here, as Flores himself was brought in on the back of Slavisa Jokanovic guiding them to promotion. A 4-2 loss to relegated Norwich has to be one of the lowlights for Watford, but the 3-0 humbling of Liverpool will live long in the memory.

West Brom – Final Position: 14th – Prediction: 13th

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Image: Sky Sports

West Brom’s season can be described in one word: Pulis. The Baggies averaged less than a goal a game as they scraped and drew their way to comfortable finish. Despite only finishing six points clear of the drop, West Brom never looked likely to go down. No player in the squad reached double figures in the league, a real sign of their lack of adventure going forward. One of the moments to forget for West Brom fans will be Saido Berahino’s two penalty misses in the 1-0 loss to Watford, but the wins at home to Arsenal and Manchester United stood out.

Crystal Palace – Final Position: 15th – Prediction: 12th

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Image: irishmirror.ie

Much like Watford, Crystal Palace had a season of two halves. Fifth on New Years Day, Palace won just two more games all season in the league as they plummeted down in to a potential relegation battle. An FA Cup final will probably excuse a slight under-performance in the league, but it is clear that Palace need a goalscorer to be anything more than a team that just makes up the numbers. I thought that Patrick Bamford would be that man this season, but for whatever reason it didn’t work out for him this year. A 5-1 hammering of Newcastle in November was a particular highlight of their league campaign, but they also suffer the igmony of being one of the only sides to lose to Aston Villa.

Bournemouth – Final Position: 16th – Prediction: 16th

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Image: The Guardian

Bournemouth couldn’t have hoped for a better first season in the Premier League. After spending big in the summer, it all appeared to go wrong with Max Gradel, Tyrone Mings and Callum Wilson all picking up long term injuries. But the Cherries never looked like going down, hanging steadily in lower-mid-table. Bournemouth were certainly one of the more entertaining sides to watch, with only Everton and Sunderland scoring more out of the bottom ten, whilst only Aston Villa conceded more. A win over south coast neighbours Southampton will be a highlight for Bournemouth, while their – at the time plucky – 2-1 loss to Villa on the opening day now looks a poor result.

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Premier League Season Review: Part 3

The third part of this season review will focus on the middle of the Premier League. Stoke topped the middle pack, whilst Chelsea and Everton drastically underperformed. Swansea escaped any relegation worries that they had at Christmas to climb to 12th.

Stoke – Final Position: 9th – Prediction: 10th

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Image: BBC Sport

Stoke had a good year, securing yet another top 10 finish. After losing Asmir Begovic, Robert Huth and Steven N’Zonzi, it could have been a difficult season. The emergence of Jack Butland as the club’s first choice keeper will be a highlight of the season. The Potters started the year slowly, but after the new signings bedded in they hit form, beating Chelsea and both Manchester clubs. Their season died out fairly early, with the realisation that European football was out of their reach and an injury to Butland coinciding. This resulted in a limp to the end of the season, seeing them concede 4 goals in three consecutive games.

Chelsea – Final Position: 10th – Prediction: 1st

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Source: The Guardian

Chelsea’s season was horrendous. There is no other way to describe it. Jose Mourinho lost the support of the players after a number of deluded outbursts and a number of big players just didn’t show up. Guus Hiddink brought the club back to the top half of the table, going undefeated in the league until April. For a side that were tipped to win the title, only Willian can come out of this season with any credit. A lot of improvement is needed under Antonio Conte next season.

Everton – Final Position: 11th – Prediction: 9th

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Image: ITV

It is safe to say that Everton also underperformed this season. A team boasting the likes of Baines, Coleman, Stones, McCarthy, Barkley, Deulofeu and Lukaku should really be challenging for at least a Europa League spot. The defence was drastically affected by injuries, and Martinez’s style of play often leaves them exposed at the back, so perhaps this failure to reach the top 10 should not come as a surprise. An early 3-1 win against Chelsea would probably be Everton’s moment of the season, but a 3-0 loss to Sunderland and a 4-0 derby drubbing will leave fans looking forward to Ronald Koeman taking over this summer.

Swansea – Final Position: 12th – Prediction: 8th

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Image: Wales Online

Many thought that Swansea would carry on last season’s challenge for the Europa League, but after the season just gone a 12th place finish seems like a good year. At Christmas Swansea were in very real danger of being relegated, and although the sacking of Garry Monk seemed a little harsh after his incredible first season, the appointment of Francesco Guidolin proved an absolute masterstroke. Wins over Chelsea and Arsenal delighted Swans fans, but their need for a striker was highlighted as they scored less goals than relegated Newcastle, and only 3 more than Norwich.

Premier League Season Review: Part 2

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

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Image: Daily Mail

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

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Image: The Guardian

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

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Image: Sky Sports

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

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Image: Sky Sports

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.

Premier League Season Review: Part 1

This year’s Premier League is undoubtedly going to go down as one of the most shocking events in world football. Nobody, even the most ardent Leicester fans, predicted their incredible rise to the title, but with the traditional big teams faltering, they seized their opportunity. In the next few posts I will briefly review each team’s season and compare them to my preseason predictions. The first part of the review will focus on Leicester, Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City.

Leicester City – Final Position: 1st – Prediction: 20th

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Image: si.com

Even when it mathematically confirmed, it was still unthinkable that Leicester City would be crowned Premier League champions. Their consistency saw them lose just 3 games all season, Arsenal home and away, and away to Liverpool. This incredible record was certainly built on an incredible defensive record, especially in the second half of the season, having kept 15 clean sheets on the way to the title. Obviously they had the attacking flair to capitalise upon this, with Jamie Vardy netting 24 goals, including his record-breaking run of scoring in 11 consecutive games, whilst Riyad Mahrez weighed in with 17 goals and 11 assists. N’Golo Kante has to go down as one of the signings of the season, whilst the likes of Danny Drinkwater, Danny Simpson and Marc Albrighton have all stepped up from last season, so much so that Drinkwater was included alongside Vardy in Roy Hodgson’s provisional 26 man Euro 2016 squad.

Obviously I got this prediction just about as wrong as you can get. Claudio Raneri did not have a good recent managerial record and I questioned whether he was what was needed to keep this squad up, let alone lift them to a Premier League title.

Arsenal – Final Position: 2nd – Prediction: 2nd

 

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Image: BBC Sport

Arsenal will consider this season a missed opportunity to lift the Premier League for the first time since 2004. The season started optimistically with the acquisition of Petr Cech, but the lack of other signings cost them dearly. Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez both suffered horrendous mid-season drops in form after being relied upon in the opening games. Question marks still sit squarely over the position of Olivier Giroud, whose 16 goals this season is not nearly enough for a striker with the service that he gets provided with. A late push saw them finish above rivals Spurs, but many people were left wondering why they could not capitalise on the momentum generated by their defeat of Leicester in LATE February.

Unfortunately for Arsenal fans their season has to be described as predictable. They are a good side, capable of beating anyone in the league, but lack the star quality to actually win any silverware. This season they were 2 or 3 players short, but whether the late snatching of second place will paper over the rather obvious cracks remains to be seen.

Tottenham – Final Position: 3rd – Prediction: 5th

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Image: The Telegraph

If you only looked at the final Premier League table, Tottenham had an excellent season. Third place at the beginning of the season would have been brilliant, but their end of season collapse saw them collect less points than relegated Norwich in the final four games. Harry Kane and Deli Alli stood out this season, Kane topping the scoring charts with 25 goals and Alli chipping in with 10. A young English core has seen Spurs become more tolerable to neutrals, but the lack of squad depth combined with Maurico Pochettino’s high pressing style saw them fall from potential title winners.

Tottenham exceeded all expectations this season, comfortably finishing in the Champions League places. Deli Alli was afforded the playing time that he needed to develop, and they will look to go one step further next year with an additional season of experience.

Manchester City – Final Position: 4th – Prediction: 4th

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Image: The Independent

Manchester City’s season was summed up perfectly after the appointment of Pep Guardiola. It was really just indifferent. The owners did not back Pellegrini in the summer, and it showed on the pitch. The emergence of Kalechi Iheanacho was clearly one of the highlights of the season, alongside their Champions League run. Their form against the other top four sides was abysmal, with just one draw from those six games. Guardiola will need to overhaul this squad if they are to challenge for the title next season rather than limp in to the Champions League again.

Like Arsenal, City’s season was rather predictable. They failed to improve the side, instead wasting money on the likes of Delph and Sterling. Only the manner of their fourth place was surprising, as I thought that they would be a lot more consistent than they turned out to be.

Vardy right to be sent off, but those penalties were shockers

Leicester’s 2-2 draw with West Ham was certainly packed with controversy, mostly surrounding the performance of referee Jon Moss. Moss gave Jamie Vardy a second yellow card for diving, whilst also awarding both teams soft penalties.

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Jamie Vardy is shown a red card after diving. Image: Mirror Sport

Jamie Vardy’s sending off has proved controversial, but the replays suggest that the referee made the right call. After getting the wrong side of West Ham’s Angelo Ogbonna, Vardy looked to move his legs to initiate the contact.

Whether Vardy should have been in that position has also been debated, with replays showing that his first yellow card should not have been given. The striker slid in on Cheikhou Kouyate but did not make contact, with the West Ham midfielder tripping over Vardy after the tackle had been made.

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Replays show that Vardy initiated the contact with Angelo Ogbonna. Image: Mirror Sport

The referee then preceded to give two of the softest penalties that you will see this season. With 6 minutes remaining, West Ham were awarded a penalty for an adjudged foul on Winston Reid from a corner. Despite the referee warning the Leicester defenders before the corner, if you are going to give penalties for holding from corners, you have to be consistent with it. Not only are these decisions not given by the majority of referees, they have not been given this season. That’s not to mention the fact that there were a further two instances in this match alone where a penalty was not given for even more blatant obstruction in the box. Furthermore, there was minimal contact on Reid, who threw himself to the floor.

Leicester’s stoppage time penalty also should not have been given. Andy Carroll was adjudged to have brought down Jeffrey Schlupp as he burst in to the box, but, as with the West Ham penalty, there was very little contact. This came just minutes after the referee missed an appeal for a Leicester penalty for a blatant foul on Huth, and with the crowd on his back, it looks like he was trying to even it out.

What’s your opinion on these incidents? Did the referee get them wrong? Have your say in the comments.

Super Sunday leaves title race wide open

Sunday’s Premier League results have left this season’s Premier League title race open for all of the top four teams. Arsenal’s win at home to Leicester sees them move two points behind the leaders, whilst Spurs’ triumph at Manchester City sees them ahead of their North London rivals on goal difference, with City a further four points back.

With the situation as tight as it is, it’s time to look ahead to the final 12 games to see who has what it takes to survive the run-in and be crowned champions of England.

Leicester, 1st, 53 points

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Riyad Mahrez netting in the 3-1 win over Manchester City. Image: dailymail.co.uk

Leicester have defied belief by staying top of the table for this amount of time. Many expected the underdogs to simply fall away as we reached the new year, however their recent 3-1 demolition of Manchester City showed that they are genuine title contenders. The Foxes have arguably the easiest run-in of the four contenders, only having to face 3 of the current top 8, plus a trip to Chelsea. Being knocked out of the FA Cup means that Leicester’s 12 remaining league games are the only ones that they have to play, meaning more rest in the hectic Easter period and during the run-in.

Added to this, 7 out of their remaining 12 games are at home, more than any of the other contenders. However this may not be beneficial for their counter-attacking style, and it could see them struggle against teams that sit deep and let them have possession.

Much has been made of Leicester’s final three games, trips to Manchester United and Chelsea either side of hosting Everton. Despite claiming 7 points from the reverse fixtures, this tough end to the season could see them give up their lead.

Tottenham, 2nd, 51 points

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Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen have 21 goals and 12 assists between them this season. Image: dailymail.co.uk

Due to Leicester’s success, Tottenham’s progression has gone largely under the radar this season. Maurico Pochettino has cleared out a lot of the deadwood and replaced it with a hard-working core of young players. The key to Spurs’ success this year is that their squad contains no real superstars, no player that could walk in to a Champions League team, but instead they work hard for each other.

Spurs have five of the top 8 still to play, whilst also visiting Chelsea, so have the toughest run-in of the title contenders. They will also be facing Newcastle on the final day, which should be a guaranteed win, despite the Tynesiders potentially needing the points to avoid relegation. Tottenham have conceded the least goals this season, and their goal difference of +27 betters Manchester City’s +20, Leicester’s +19 and Arsenal’s +18. However, they will be sweating on the return of Jan Vertonghen after his recent injury. Although Kevin Wimmer has performed well in his absense, Vertonghen is one of the few Spurs players to have won a domestic title before, so his experience could prove vital.

A potential dent in Spurs’ title hopes is that they could potentially still have 27 games to play this season, according to Sky Sports. Whether the added Europa League and FA Cup fixtures will tire a relatively thin squad or boost the team’s morale by picking up win after win remains to be seen. Pochettino may attempt to solve this by rotating in the cup competitions, but he should be prepared to justify himself should that not lead to Spurs winning the league.

Arsenal, 3rd, 51 points

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Danny Welbeck’s winner against Leicester was his first league goal since December 2014. Image: dailymail.co.uk

Arsenal’s win against Leicester has brought the Gunners within two points of the Foxes, and arguably in to the strongest position to win the title. The squad is more experienced than either Leicester’s or Tottenham’s, with World Cup winners Mertesacker and Ozil, as well as title winners Sanchez, Welbeck, Cech and Giroud. Arsenal seem to have shaken the stigma of being ‘bottlers’, winning consecutive FA Cups, so it is really time for them to win their first title since 2004.

Arsenal only have to face four of the current top 8 sides, however all four of those are away from home. Having taken only two wins from those reverse fixtures will be a concern for Arsenal fans, however they have taken the most points from games against the other top four teams with 10. The Gunners’ strikers will have plenty of ammunition, with Mesut Ozil having created the most chances (106), the most clear-cut chances (23), and the most assists (17) in the league so far this season.

Arsenal’s last five games seem especially favourable, as they face Palace, Sunderland and Norwich, before a trip to the Etihad and hosting Aston Villa on the final day. With this in mind, should the title not be sewn up by the middle of April, Arsenal should be the favourites. It is also unlikely that they will have to worry about European games, as they face the seemingly unstoppable Barcelona in the Round of 16. A hammering in the Champions League could damage morale, however it didn’t seem too evident in the draw at home to Tottenham after the 5-1 loss to Bayern earlier this season.

Manchester City, 4th, 47 points

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Kelechi Iheanacho scored his third goal of the season as a substitute against Spurs, the joint highest from coming off the bench. Image: dailymail.co.uk

Manchester City’s late loss at home to Tottenham sees them sit in fourth, six points behind Leicester. City are no strangers to trailing in the league, with their previous title wins coming from a 7 and a 8 point deficit. However, this year’s side looks different. Manuel Pellegrini’s departure seems to have some players already on their holidays, with only a win at Sunderland to show for in the three games since the announcement that Pep Guardiola will take charge in the summer.

City haven’t been bad at either end of the pitch, but the midfield seems the problem as it comes to the business end of the season. Joe Hart has kept 11 clean sheets, one behind league leader Cech whilst Vincent Kompany is returning to full fitness, with City having kept 7 clean sheets in the 9 games that he has played. At the other end, Sergio Aguero’s 14 goals see him joint fifth in the scoring charts, despite only playing in 19 games. But Kevin De Bruyne’s absence in midfield has been felt, especially with Yaya Toure playing as if he knows that he will not be at the club next season. David Silva has 8 assists, but neither he, nor Toure, or even Raheem Sterling have chipped in with enough goals. The centre midfield duo that started the game against Tottenham, Fernando and Fernandinho, shows the lack of genuine quality in midfield that stops City from becoming a powerhouse.

With Dynamo Kiev in the next round of the Champions League, it can be expected that City will have to negotiate at least four extra games on top of the League, the FA Cup and the Captial One Cup Final. In the league they face four top 8 opponents, as well as a trip to Chelsea. Fortunately, they only have 5 home games left this season, as four of their 7 defeats have come at the Etihad this season, more than in Pellegrini’s previous two seasons combined (3). They face trips to Manchester United and Southampton in their final five matches, as well as hosting Arsenal, so if Manchester City are to recreate the highs of 2011 and 2014, they will have to do it the hard way. It is worth noting that City have the poorest record against the other top four sides, amassing only one point so far.

Forster to Challenge Hart for England Spot?

After nine months out of action this summer’s European Championships may have seemed a distant dream for Fraser Forster. However five clean sheets in his first five games back have seen him demonstrate why he was being talked about as a real challenger to Joe Hart.

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Forster’s 10 saves at Arsenal was a personal high in the Premier League. Image: dailymail.co.uk

Southampton hadn’t looked particularly weak defensively so far this season, aside from the early 3-0 defeat to Everton and a hefty 6-1 loss against Liverpool in the Capital One Cup, however the return of Forster has seen a more confident back line.

The Englishman had very little to do in his first three games back, but a sensational performance to almost single-handedly hold Arsenal to a goalless draw drew the media spotlight. Forster denied Arsenal time and time again, making ten saves as he kept a fourth clean sheet. His latest performance in the 1-0 against West Ham saw him become the first Southampton goalkeeper in 15 years to keep five consecutive clean sheets.

What makes this record even more remarkable is that Forster has made almost half as many saves (14) in his five games as his stand-in, Maarten Stekelenburg, made in 17 matches (30 saves). Forster’s record of not conceding in five also reflects favourably compared to the Dutchman, who conceded 19 goals in his 17 league games, and managed just once to keep three consecutive clean sheets.

Many have called, myself included, for Jack Butland to be rewarded for his excellent form this season with international recognition, and the addition of Forster to this mix can only be a good thing for the national side. As well as being in a rich vein of form this season, Forster looked an almost certainty to pick up the ‘Golden Glove’ award last season before his injury, accumulating 13 clean sheets. He also has the bonus of having European experience from his time at Celtic, with his performance in the 2-1 win against Barcelona seeing him nicknamed ‘The Great Wall’ in the Spanish media. This could prove vital should Joe Hart suffer an injury or a drop in form, especially if Roy Hodgson is not comfortable throwing in the younger Butland.