The season is finally overThe big four secured Champions League and, come to think of it, except for Liverpool’s glory it was business as usual.
Liverpool’s first Premier League crown was not the only story of this difficult season. The fight for European places, the relegation battle and other smaller dramas within individual teams made up the season. The newly promoted teams had to prove that they belonged. For cash strapped teams like Brighton, avoiding relegation would be a victory.
Despite their flying start, the relegation of Norwich was looking likely as early as January. They had won the Championship but they soon seemed out of their depth in this league. Newly-promoted Aston Villa seemed likely to join them until the very last two games. In their penultimate game they beat Arsenal 1-0. Depending on Watford’s result against (again) Arsenal on the last day they could stay up. Watford lost and Prince William’s team Aston Villa survived. But Sheffield United, returning the Premier League after 12 years, were a different story altogether.
Before the pandemic disruption, Sheffield United with its very English brand of football of tireless running, high pressing and physicality were Champions League hopefuls. But the break broke their momentum. They ended up ninth but won many hearts on the way. The last time they were in the Premier League they had lasted just a season and pundits had expected a repeat.
Bournemouth, the second team to get relegated, had been punching above its weight since its promotion to the Premier League in 2015/16 season. Such was the admiration for their young manager Eddie Howe he was touted as a future England manager. But injuries and key decisions against them aided by the controversial VAR sent them down.
Watford, who played in the FA Cup final last season, had survived in the Premier League five seasons. But this season it saw a managerial merry-go-round with the first one sacked after four games and the third one when two games of the season were remaining. Before Arsenal Manchester thrashed them.
At the other end of the table Brendon Rodgers was doing wonders for Leicester till the break. They were third in the league and a Champion League place seemed assured. But injury to playmaker James Madisson towards the end, general tiredness and a limited squad did them in. On the last day they had to beat Manchester United but the superpower prevailed. With a new manager, and little investment in players no one really expected Leicester to go to the Europa League but they have.
FIFA had imposed a transfer ban on Chelsea when the season began (later overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sports) so there were no new players except Christian Pulisic who they had signed the previous season and loaned back to Borussia Dortmund. Their best player Eden Hazard had left for greener pastures. And they had a rookie manager in club legend Frank Lampard. It was a stop start season but somehow they held on to the fourth Champions League spot.
Wolverhampton Wanderers continued to impress despite a poor start with the toils of Europa League qualification rounds early on. But soon with their well-drilled direct football they began accumulating points and even looked like they would qualify for the Champions League. But they too floundered after the restart. They are still in the Europa League and could win and play in the elite European club tournament.
New manager Steve Bruce’s Newcastle were not expected to do as well as they did but ensured safety even before the restart. Southampton picked itself up admirably after Leicester humiliated it 7-0 and went on a winless streak looking down the barrel of the gun. Roy Hogdson’s calm influence continued to steady Crystal Palace and Sean Dyche’s physical Burnley continued to punch above its weight. Graham Potter’s Brighton went on with their job quietly and were never really in the relegation scrap like Chris Houghton’s was last year.
The big four secured Champions League and, come to think of it, except for Liverpool’s glory it was business as usual.