By Neil Leverett
- Liverpool bask in Premier League glory, as the contenders queue up next season
- Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea make Champions League grade, as Leicester City stumble at final hurdle
- Watford and AFC Bournemouth end five-year stints in top-flight after relegation, whilst Leeds United prepare for top-flight return after 16-year absence
PREMIER LEAGUE – After the curtain finally fell on the Premier League season this past weekend, what did we learn from the 2019/20 campaign?
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Reds rule the roost…
As Sunday finally saw an 11-month and unprecedented 2019/20 Premier League campaign come to an end, Liverpool ended the season – like they have been for much of it – top of the table, by 18 points, just one shy of a momentous century.
Picking up their 32nd win of the season, Jurgen Klopp‘s men came from behind against Newcastle United this past weekend having taken the relatively paltry sum of four points from their last three outings.
Despite the Reds’ rather chequered form since the restart, Liverpool have been the dominant force throughout the campaign. From back to front the champions have been a fluid feast for the eyes and though perhaps not as prolific as last term, no less meritorious.
Klopp has rightly heralded a king of the city after ending a 30-year wait for the top-flight league title and though having lost their European crown, a gong of World Club Champions may cushion the blow somewhat. The Merseysiders have been majestic and marvellous.
…but the competition mounts
Now however, is where the hard work starts for Liverpool. As the only club to successfully retain their league crown last year in a decade, Manchester City found holding on to the Premier League crown takes some doing and the case will be no different for this season’s runaway winners.
On the face of it, it may be tricky for the Merseysiders to improve their already stellar cast list, however in the case of Chelsea, the Blues are now building an attack that could challenge the best in Europe.
Having already recruited Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner before the transfer window even opened, Bayer Leverkusen’s in-demand Kai Havertz could now be added to the fold if reports in the Guardian are to believed. Throw a fast-adapting Christian Pulisic into the mix and the Blues are looking a real threat next season.
If the West Londoners are eyeing a return to the top of the summit, a scorned Manchester will be targeting Liverpool from both sides of the City. Manchester City will be keen to respond after relinquishing their crown, whilst a blooming Red Devils led by Bruno Fernandes, look a realistic prospect for a title tilt.
The Reds may have romped to their first Premier League crown this term, but the big boys in the top flight are assembling strong squads. Liverpool will have to be prepared for a rear-guard action.
Foxes fall at final hurdle
As Leicester City and Manchester United went head to head for the final top-four spot on final day, its was the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men who came out on top 2-0, as former United player Jonny Evans‘ late dismissal, rather compounded what has been a laboured last nine games of the season.
Having at one stage looked to challenging Manchester City for second spot – even Liverpool – the Foxes have picked up just two wins since the lockdown, but more pertinently gone on to lose four times in that period.
Missing out on a return to the Champions League for the second time, Leicester will be consoled with Europa League football next term but after falling outside the top-four on the final day for the first time since August, disappoint will no doubt be rife in the East Midlands.
Though Jamie Vardy claimed his second Golden Boot with 23 goals, that will be of little relative comfort for Brendan Rodgers‘ side. Few can dispute the Foxes has improved under the Northern Irishman’s guidance, but failure to capitalise on it will bring much regret for the former Premier League winners.
Sting in tail for Hornets
Sunday’s finale did not disappoint for tension this weekend and after 38 games of an 11-month campaign, it was just a single point that separated 17th and 19th spots, as Aston Villa staved off relegation, with Watford and AFC Bournemouth joining Norwich City in the drop to the Championship.
For the latter two clubs, relegation brings to an end five years in the top flight, and whilst a potential financial issue in the age of COVID-19, the scenario has been on the cards for some time.
In the case of the Hornets, owner Gino Pozzo‘s philosophy of short-term managerial stints finally caught up with him and just over a week after opting to part ways with Nigel Pearson, the club fell through the trapdoor to the second tier of English football.
Under the caretaker stewardship of their seventh boss since 2015 in Hayden Mullins, Watford must now prepare for life in the arguably the one of the toughest leagues to escape in Europe.
This after it was Pearson who resurrected the club’s survival chances; bottom of the pile, win-less and with just nine points on the board in early December, to out of the bottom three just a month later, seemingly on course to beat the drop once more.
After a poor run of form before the break and the league’s three-month hiatus however, it seems karma may have finally caught up with the Hertfordshire side. Indeed, the Hornets may have stung themselves.
Bielsa top-flight spice
As three clubs drop out of the Premier League, three more will make the journey upwards in the English football hierarchy. Whilst West Bromwich Albion make their return to the top flight after two seasons away, Leeds United meanwhile will be back in the big time for the first time since 2004.
Since their fall from grace in 2001 as Champions League semi-finalists, the Whites have suffered greatly contrasting fortunes to that of dining at the top table of European club competition and after going to administration in 2007, dropped to the third tier.
Their route back has been a much-publicised one and after seasons of play-off misery, the coup appointment of Marcelo Bielsa as Leeds boss two years ago has been the decisive catalyst for reform, as the club sealed the Championship title without having to kick a ball earlier this month.
Leeds have been the arguably the best side in the second tier for three years now, and the club’s eventual promotion will see the enigmatic and litigious Argentine finally lock horns with the cream of top-flight management.
Whilst the Premier League’s status as best in the world can be argued, a managerial role-call of Klopp, Guardiola, Mourinho and now Bielsa whets the appetite. Leeds have built to survive the rigours of the top tier and after all they have been through in the past two decades are primed for next season. Elland Road will be the place to be in September.
The 2020/21 Premier League season is currently scheduled to begin on September 12 2020.
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