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PL Season Review: Roller coaster rides don’t usually last a whole year!

When the Premier League announced their matchday schedule in June 2019, they (also, all of us) probably didn’t think the season would continue well and beyond June 2020.

It has been a season of many wonders and also more importantly, a season that would enter the history books for reasons more than one.  “Liverpool crowned Champions of England”, “Leicester put NINE past the Saints”, “COVID-19 keeps Games played behind closed doors”, “Norwich City thump Champions Manchester City” are just some of the headlines this season that got us going. 

Let’s try and dissect what actually happened:

Liverpool – Champions of England

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Liverpool football club posted a video on Instagram with Jürgen Klopp doing the voiceover, the day they were declared as champions. No matter who you’ve been supporting all these years that video made each and every one of us, smile.

Such is the story of Liverpool FC. Having dominated the English Game during the Pre-Premier league era with 18 league titles, Liverpool FC has always been close to success stories.

Fast forward 29 years, they were vastly ridiculed and put to shame by fans everywhere especially with the meteoric rise of Manchester United to become the most successful club by winning 20 league titles during that time.

Liverpool Football Club is a special part of English Football, and getting a Special Coach nay, Special Person like Jürgen Klopp was absolutely vital to their success. The Board of this club demonstrated what most clubs don’t offer these days – Patience.

It’s not to say that Klopp walked in and everything else magically turned around. Klopp took his time, understood the club as a whole and made himself reverberate with the very ethos of the red section of Merseyside.

SAF famously quoted; “Your personality has flown so evidently over the team, you deserve this success” and that’s exactly what great managers are all about.

Liverpool Football Club has grown leaps and bounds over the five years, and this year is a statement to the fast, high pressing, goal scoring machine that they have become. In today’s football world, where managers are slashed on and off their roles faster that we could go and the likes of Fergusons and Wengers could no long be found, Liverpool FC showed great tenacity and faith in Jürgen Klopp.

Good managers when given time would most likely perform well and Liverpool did just that. Something that David Moyes, Antonio Conte, Mauricio Pochetino and Claudio Ranieri weren’t lucky enough to receive.

A Fantastic season with superstars like Sadio Mane, Virgil Van Dijk, Jordan Henderson, Mohammed Salah all over the pitch, spent every week of the season at the top with just two defeats to their name with a club record 99 points after a record second-place finish with 97 points last year, it was truly Liverpool’s year.

What happened to Manchester City?

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After going neck to neck with Liverpool last season, Manchester City were very well placed for another great season looking ahead. Manchester City were tipped to be the only side that was capable of catching up with runaway league leaders Liverpool.

However, an early-season loss to a newly promoted Norwich City side did little to aid the erratic start they endured this season. A major reason as to why Manchester City looked vulnerable at times while covering their defensive lines is the absence of their own “Captain, Leader, Legend” – Vincent Kompany.

Not replacing Kompany coupled with the long term injury to Aymeric Laporte, luck simply wasn’t on the citizen’s side. Fernandinho deputized well but without a partner to aid his cause, their defensive struggles continued.

Many would argue that city weren’t simply motivated enough to win the premier league again for the third time and had their sights set on the Champion’s League, while this could hold true for a club with average ambition Manchester City isn’t one of that sort.

With the immense talent on the pitch and Pep Guardiola leading their charge, nothing other than trophies would mean business to this ruthless English side. After all, they still have to get past Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Sunderland, Chelsea and Everton in terms of League titles achieved.

With the return of Laporte back in the side, and a renewed resurgence having accepted that they aren’t going to catch Liverpool this season Manchester City have looked like their getting back to their old self again. There’s loads left for city to play for, with a first leg away lead against the newly crowned Spanish Champions, a stuttering season could have a very memorable end for them.

The race for European Places:

Lampard and Solskjaer during the FA Cup semifinal at Wembley.
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With the season done and dusted long back, the rollercoaster that was referred to earlier was about the race for European Places as well as the Great escapes on the other end of the table.

If the 2018-19 season was a close call to decide the title, the 2019-20 season can be attributed to the race for top 4 with every place up for grabs even on the last day. It was almost as if it was written up in the stars with Leicester playing Manchester United and Chelsea entertaining a feisty encounter with Wolves on the last day of the season.  

Leicester city enjoyed a fine season under Brendan Rodgers, in his first return to English football. They enjoyed several high points throughout the season and even set the record for the biggest ever away victory recorded in Premier League history when they hit NINE past The Saints at St. Mary’s Stadium.

They sat 14 points ahead of Manchester United heading into January and looked set to qualify for UCL comfortably. However, untimely injuries to Ricardo Pereira, James Maddison and further absences of Ben Chilwel and Caglar Soyuncu left a massive dent on Leicester City’s creative outlets and defensively vulnerable.  

In addition to this, Leicester city’s dip in form coincided with the resurgence of a Manchester United marshaled by January signing Bruno Fernandes. United went on one of their longest unbeaten runs since the Ferguson Era, and it came at the right time for them as they piped Leicester city on the final day of the season for a place in the top 4.

Chelsea had a very erratic first season under Frank Lampard’s first season in the top flight by beating the likes of Liverpool, Manchester city, Manchester United, Leicester city, Arsenal, Spurs, Wolves but losing to West Ham, Southampton, relegated side Bournemouth and the likes of Sheffield United.

With a transfer ban in place, departure of talismanic playmaker genius Eden Hazard and a host of fringe players left at the club, Frank Lampard knew he was stepping into huge shoes and was taking up a massive responsibility.

As a bright young manager, he was not afraid to give the younger players a chance to and also benching older players if they did not perform. Eight academy players including Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori, and Reece James were given their debuts this season along with the likes of Pulisic, Loftus Cheek and Tammy Abraham getting on the act, Lampard got the best out of his Chelsea side something that previous managers often overlooked.

They have been inside the top 4 since mid-October and Frank Lampard deserves all the plaudits he can receive for steering his beloved club back to European places.

Wolves had another fantastic season on the back of their impressive run last year. Leading scorer Raul Jimenez had 17 goals scored in what was another great year to remember for him.

This Wolves side has used only the lowest no. of players across the season (20) and still managed to stay in the fight for Europa league for both this season and the next. Defensive mainstays such as Wily Boly, Coady, Doherty and Jonny have been fixtures in this side. Adama Traore truly announced himself this season, much to the terror of so many PL defenses along with Pedro Neto and Daniel Podence.

Arsenal endured a horrific season owing to the shock start they had this season. A run that was so poor that it led to the sacking of Unai Emery in December. Mikel Arteta has done reasonably well to steer Arsenal somewhat to the attacking side they used to be.

They finished 8th this campaign which has been a season to forget, however they do still have an FA cup final that could set up their berth in the Europa League next season, so there’s a super crucial game that could define their fortunes going into next season.  

Spurs are another side that endured an erratic season as well, with Pochetino too receiving the sack midway through the season. Many managers have been sacked this season; however this sacking could potentially be the harshest.

Mauricio was loved by fans and neutrals alike for both his personality and the brand of football that he gets spurs to play. What was more surprising is the signing of Jose Mourinho as his replacement.

An entire shift from the ideology and style of play that spurs used to play to Jose Mourinho’s rugged defensive displays was a lot to digest for spurs fans in a span of few days.

Mourinho took this Spurs side from the bottom half and secured a 6th Place finish above the likes of Wolves, Arsenal and an impressive Sheffield United side, which is definitely a commendable piece of work done by the Special One. Now, what lies for spurs, looking ahead? Only time will tell.

Relegation Battle gone right down the wire

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Aston Villa pulled off what most people would deem impossible given how deep they were into the relegation scraps. Having spent a fortune on over ten player arrivals and a 100 million Euros lighter on their finances, Aston Villa looked like they were ready to take the Premier League comfortable and set for a mid-table position to say the very least.

After a very below-average showing from Dean Smith’s side, they were able to secure PL safety by the slightest of margins. That could be attributed to the exploits of the skipper Jack Grealish along with the bizarre decision made by the Watford Board to sack Nigel Pearson with two games left to finish the campaign.

If we are to take a look at the hornets, they’re quite literally the unpredictable side in the division. Their unpredictability stems up from the players all the way up to the club’s hierarchy. The players could go from beating Liverpool and ending their unbeaten streak to losing against Brighton and Hove Albion the very next week. While they do that, their board is busy shuffling coaches left, right and centre. In all fairness, Watford stood a way better chance at escaping the drop under Nigel Pearson. One club’s misfortune turned out to become a blessing for another, thus helping the Villains secure their top flight status.

Bournemouth had been in the relegation mire for long periods of the season and although they could rue the no. of injuries to key players that they’ve had to endure, it has not come as a surprise to see the cherries go down in what’s been a campaign to forget.

Their team is stocked with talent, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see the likes of Nathan Ake, Ryan Fraser, Callum Wilson, Diego Rico and Aaron Ramsdale move on to greener pastures. The Cherries along with the Hornets entered the PL stage together back in 2015, now they take the drop together along with Norwich who were relegated ruthlessly a long time ago.

Hello to the Visitors!

Marcelo Bielsa prepares for his first-ever outing in English top-flight
Picture Source: Twitter

Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion have so far secured two of the three spots available for promotion to the premier league. In what has been a truly remarkable side for Marcelo Biesla’s Leeds side, Elland road have been waiting for this moment for a while now.

Watch out for the roar that would roared when Leeds take on the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United. Both sides are tied in terms of goals scored (77) and slight defensive lapses from the Hawthorns have been the difference between first and second place in the championship table. West Brom have been the more recent to play in the premier league but there’s no reason to doubt how they might go under Slaven Bilic this time around, who had previously managed West Ham United. The Turkish boss would surely be ready and more ready for the big boys of England, this time around.

The championship Playoffs are fast approaching and under dramatic circumstances of what ensued on the final day of their season, Swansea City piped Nottingham Forest to the last berth for Playoffs.

A similar story followed as to how West Brom got into second place on the final day of season with Barnsley magnificently pulled a fast one over Brentford (who on the other hand have been terrific to watch this season as the top scorers of the division with 80 goals)  to secure their Championship status.

A slip up that may prove costly as Brentford are already behind on aggregate against Swansea City. A massive second leg coming up for the Bees in a bid to salvage something out of the fantastic run they’ve had. On the side, Fulham have their sights set on Wembley, with an away lead of 2 goals over Cardiff City.

You can’t make this stuff up, good old last day blues.

Biggest Shocks and Surprises

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Although there’s only a thin line that separates shocks and surprises, they surely could have profound impacts on a football club. The biggest surprise of the season has surely been….. yes, you guessed it right – Sheffield United.

Promoted along with the likes of Championship winners Norwich City and Play offs winner Aston Villa, the three clubs had contrasting philosophies as to how they were going to survive in the Premier League. Norwich known for their attacking flair under Daniel Farke were tipped for a great season in the top flight and Aston Villa made over ten signings, spending over a 100 million Euros to ensure that they match the standards of the PL.

Both these sides were thought to be moving in the right direction towards not just ensuring PL safety but also their long term future at the top flight while pundits and neutral fans alike were questioning Chris Wilder’s side if they were doing enough to ensure that they adapt to the PL. Little did those pundits know that the PL was not yet ready to adapt to Sheffield United’s style of play!

Sheffield United plays a very different style of football where they set up with a 5-3-2 formation, ready to absorb any amount of pressure from the opposition. They are a very well side, drilled defensively with the likes of new stars in the making such as Egan, Basham and the On-loan Manchester United GK Dean Henderson.

They are a brilliant counter-attacking side that absorbs pressure off their opponents by clearing the ball onto the two target men strikers up top, ready to pounce on the first and second balls.

Their Midfield boasts the likes of John Fleck’s vision and distribution, Olivier Norwood’s passing, the midfield engine that is John Lundstram, and the sheer power of their shrewd January acquisition of Sander Berge. When the blades do have the ball, they come out with their signature move – Overlapping center-backs.

It is a move where the center-backs on corresponding sides of the pitch makes a run to aid their full-backs thus offering more options for whipping a cross into the box, which would have been overloaded with targets by then. The tactic worked hugely successfully especially against their famous 3-0 victory over Frank Lampard’s Chelsea.

The blades were in pole position to secure a Europa League spot in what has been their maiden campaign back at the top, only to falter and lose their place to Spurs towards the very end of the season.

Moving on to the shocks of the season, there have been several instances such as

Picture Source: Twitter
  1. VAR responsible for a number of wrong calls made and coming under heavy scrutiny.
  2. Watford using over four managers across a single campaign of Football.
  3. Saints put to shame by Leicester City.
  4. Jose Mourinho taking over Pochetino’s Spurs.
  5. West Ham, with the massive talent they have got at their disposal, getting pulled into the relegation battle.
  6. Watford’s fantastic show at Vicarage Road to deny the then, on course champions of the legendary “Invincibles” status.

The biggest shock this season has been the pandemic sweeping across not just England but across the whole globe. This pandemic has had a devastating impact on billions of people around the world, and the premier league was forced into making several changes. The clubs were tested financially, mentally as well as emotionally for the fans. The clubs have shown great character with several players accepting wage cuts and by coming together and standing united during such difficult times.

The pandemic has had profound effects on PL football and a host of changes had to be introduced such as playing matches behind closed doors for the first in history, five substitutions allowed per game, drinks break between halves of football being played as well as the provision of placing nine players on the substitute’s bench. Kudos to the people who have worked to pull this off, they helped to shed some light into what’s been a dark time football fans with nothing to enjoy for over a 100 days without Premier League.

Summary:

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It has been a season of many firsts and lots to remember. It has also been one to forget for some others. Premier League has always delivered its share of entertainment, but however, this season shall go down as one of the most memorable seasons of all time, simply owing to the fact that it ticked every possible box that football could offer us in a single season.

From Liverpool winning their first title in 30 years to Frank Lampard single-handedly guiding Chelsea to the top 4 with just one year of championship experience under his belt and Watford going down with over four managers to coach them in the same season, we simply couldn’t have asked for more.  There’s a reason why Premier League Football is most sought after in the world, and this season has been a statement rightly made.

Also Read: Key Takeaways From UEFA Champions League 2019-2020

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