My Premier League Review: Part Three
Here it is, the final part of my lengthy review of the Premier League season and my predictions (that as it turns out were terrible.) Let’s see if I can save some face with the last seven teams…
My Prediction: 19th
Actual Finish: 20th
Norwich surprised everyone by gaining promotion, however many expected them to go straight back down given the gulf in class and wealth. And, well, that’s exactly what happened.
Their 4-1 opening night defeat at the hands of Liverpool would foreshadow their season to come; playing decent football going forward, but ultimately not taking their chances and being undone at the back. They would win two of their next four games including the shock of the season, a 3-2 win over Manchester City with eight players out through injury. Finnish striker Teemu Pukki also started like a house on fire, with 6 goals in his first 5 games.
However, the goals soon dried up for Pukki and Norwich.
They would have to wait seven games until their next victory, by which time they were firmly in the relegation zone. The Canaries fought hard, but their squad was simply not up to Premier League standard. Their youngsters in Todd Cantwell, Max Aarons and Jamal Lewis performed admirably, but they couldn’t prevent Norwich from gradually being cut adrift at the foot of the table.
A win over Leicester at the end of February left them with a faint hope of survival, however they would fail miserably in their quest, as they lost their last 10 games, with a lack of effort and desire evident as the games went on. They were criticised for a lack of investment; however, this may be a benefit in a post COVID-19 football world where finances are being strongly tested.
My Prediction: 20th
Actual Finish: 9th
After 12 seasons away from the top-flight, Sheffield United were also tipped to be fighting for their lives in the Premier League. However, Chris Wilder and his radical overlapping centre-backs took the Premier League by storm and led them to their highest ever finish in the Premier League.
After an indifferent start, the Blades slowly began to climb the table in October and November, with a run od just two defeats in twelve games lifting the club to 6th above the likes of Manchester United and Spurs. Another good run of results in February and March had the club dreaming of a finish in the European places, however, poor form post-lockdown, partly induced by injury problems, saw those dreams fade. Three straight losses to finish the season saw the club finish in 9th, a tremendous achievement considering just two seasons before they were in the third tier.
They did spend relatively large sums on foreigners Lys Mousset and Sander Berge, but it was the likes of Jack O’Connell, John Lundstram and Dean Henderson that really caught the eye. As much as their defence was outstanding – conceding only 39 goals – they will need to on their goal tally of 39 if they are to maintain or improve on their outstanding season.
My Prediction: 13th
Actual Finish: 11th
If you told any Southampton fan on the 25th October 2019 that they would finish the season in 11th, they probably would have laughed in your face and called you a loony. For context, on this day the Saints had just lost 9-0 (yes, nine!) at home to Leicester City. They were down 5-0 at half time and many fans opted to head home rather than sit in the pouring rain and watch their team suffer a record equalling defeat.
Southampton sat 18th after this with a terrible goal difference and had champions Manchester City up next. Many were predicting that they would cop another heavy defeat, yet they fought bravely and only lost 2-1 after taking the lead. But slowly Southampton began to regain confidence, and thanks to a five-match unbeaten run in late December they climbed to 12th. They even managed to beat Leicester in the return fixture 2-1.
After some inconsistent form just before lockdown, the Saints would be one of the best teams in the summer months, losing only one of their last nine games. They also recorded wins over notable Man City, Spurs and Chelsea. They were spearheaded by striker Danny Ings, who finished as joint top-scorer with 22 goals. They also improved their defensive performances massively after the 9-0 loss. After a few turbulent seasons, Southampton will be hoping that stability under Hasenhuttl can bring them some success in the future.
My Prediction: 3rd
Actual Finish: 6th
In hindsight it is clear to see that a fairy tale run to the Champions League Final papered over gaping cracks in the Tottenham squad. Unlike previous seasons, Daniel Levy allowed manager Mauricio Pochettino to spend heavily, breaking the transfer record for midfielder Tanguy Ndombele, as well as signing Giovanni Lo Celso and Ryan Sessengon. These signings failed to stop the rot however as a poor start to the season led to the squad becoming disillusioned with Poch’s methods. By November he was sacked after winning just three of his first twelve games and just 24 hours later his replacement was announced. It was none other than the self-proclaimed ‘Special One’, Jose Mourinho.
Despite being the opposite of his predecessor, Mourinho had a good start with four wins in his first five matches. He set about either reintegrating unhappy members of the team back into the starting squad or moving them on in the case of Christian Eriksen and Danny Rose. Yes, his methods are predictably polarising and there were games where Tottenham looked diabolically bad, a 3-1 loss to Sheffield post lockdown being a glaring example. But at the end of the day he was able to lead Spurs to a 6th place finish and Europa League qualification, just. Home wins over Man City and Arsenal were also high points in a very up and down season.
It will be interesting to see where Tottenham go from here. Mourinho is famous for not actively promoting young players (something Pochettino had great success with) and has had notable meltdowns in his last two Premier League jobs that have seen him get ignominiously sacked. Whether he can deliver much needed silverware to North London before then will be one of the most intriguing back stories of next season.
My prediction: 12th
Actual finish: 19th
Despite only winning two of their last 10 games at the end of the 2018-19 season and being thrashed 6-0 in the FA Cup Final by Man City, the Watford hierarchy decided to stick with Javi Gracia in an attempt to bring rare continuity to the club.
It didn’t work.
A 3-0 home loss to Brighton on the first matchday set the tone for the season and by the end of August, Gracia was sacked, and the Pozzo Family returned to their trigger-happy approach to managing the club. The first successor Quique Sanchez Flores endured a torrid time at the club, only lasting 10 games before he too was sacked. His successor Nigel Pearson gave the team a mini revival through December, with six unbeaten games lifting the club out of the relegation zone.
However, Watford simply couldn’t sustain the run, as Watford would only win 3 of their last 16 games, culminating in their relegation on the final day. They even managed to sack another manager, as Pearson left with just two games to go.
There were few standout players for Watford - though talisman Troy Deeney bagged 10 goals - but many of summer signings like Ismaila Sarr and Ignacio Pussetto failed to produce on a regular basis. It will be interesting to see how many players depart as the club prepares for life in the Championship.
Oh well, at least they can say beat Liverpool.
West Ham United
My Prediction: 11th
Actual Finish: 16th
In what was supposed to be a second season of the Manuel Pellegrini revolution, it ended up being an underwhelming and nerve-wracking season for West Ham fans.
They made all the right noises in the transfer market, breaking their transfer record to sign Sebastian Haller; and they started well, sitting 5th after 7 games. However, a horrific loss of form that coincided with an injury to keeper Lukasz Fabianski saw the Hammers win only two of their next 13 games and led to Pellegrini’s dismissal at the end of December. The return of David Moyes did not do much to spark joy in East London as it was seen by fans as a step back.
And in truth the Scotsman didn’t really produce any magnificent form, only winning 5 of his 18 games in charge of the club. However, the teams below them were in such a mess that West Ham managed to finish 5 points above the drop zone.
Despite the underwhelming season there were some bright spots; Declan Rice continued his impressive form, which has firmly put himself in the shop window for the major clubs. Moyes’ January signings have also been promising, with both Tomas Soucek and Jarrod Bowen showing promise in their limited game time. Whether David Moyes is the man to lead the Hammers into the top half of the is still very much open for debate in the East End.
My Prediction: 9th
Actual Finish: 7th
A second consecutive 7th placed finish and a run to the quarter finals of the Europa League can be considered hugely successful for Wolves, however you get the feeling that there is a lingering sense of what could have been.
The squad remained mostly unchanged from their previous season, with the marquee signing Raul Jimenez making his loan move permanent; the Portuguese striker would be a crucial asset to the team, scoring 17 league goals.
Their season ran for a length of exactly 365 days thanks to their early start in the Europa League and the COVID suspension. This early stay did have an impact, with the club failing to win any of their first 6 games. They went on a 10-match unbeaten run that lasted until December, before a run of 4 losses in 8 games set the club back in their quest for Europe. Another unbeaten run that lasted into July saw Wolves firmly in contention for a Champions League place, before damaging defeats to Sheffield and Arsenal put an end to those aspirations. Furthermore, a loss to Chelsea on the final day ensured that the club missed out on European football on goal difference.
There were many success stories to come out of this season for Wolves; a double over Manchester City, and the emergence of speedster Adama Traore caught the eye. However, a league high 14 draws would be Wolves’ undoing, as in many games they were unable to land the killer blow. The loss of fullback Matt Doherty to Tottenham is a huge loss, and if Wolves are to truly remain contenders for European places there is a need to increase the depth of the squad. No European football may benefit the team next season.
To sum up the ‘success’ of my predictions, two team I picked to sit comfortably in mid-table got relegated, the team I picked to come last finished 9th and I didn’t even back my own team to win the league. So, if anyone wants betting advice for the upcoming season, I am clearly not the person to ask…