We obviously had two straight-A students in the Premier League this season, but Paul Higham's report cards for the rest of the division highlighted some huge disappointments.
Man City and Liverpool stood head and shoulders above the rest of the Premier League class - there are a lot of 'must do betters' for teams to think about this summer ahead of the 2019/20 term.
Manchester City A+
If last season never happened this would be the best return of all time – the fact that they’ve won back-to-back titles and held off the strongest Liverpool team possible yet still finished with two points less tells you how dominant they were last year. They still trounced everyone bar the Reds, but took four points off their title rivals which ultimately proved the difference.
The Champions League is the obvious next step as both Spurs and Liverpool outshone them in Europe, but on a Premier League basis they’re one of the best we’ve ever seen.
You can’t give Liverpool anything less than full marks given the results, the improvement and the points total they achieved this season. Yes, they came up a point short but in almost every other year they’d be champions and they were still head and shoulders above the rest of the league, and this time it looks like they could sustain that challenge for a few more seasons.
I don’t care who you are it’s always tough as a player or a manager coming into a new league in a new country with a new language, so Maurzio Sarri has to have that asterisk next to anything he achieved this season. The gap between Chelsea and the top two is far too big, we know that, with the quality of players they have at Chelsea, but if you look at the cold, hard facts, he got to the Carabao Cup final, the Europa League final and finished best of the rest – style points and actual points could have been higher, but he could have finished no higher this year.
Tempted to give Pochettino an ‘A’ as well given that he’s not signed anyone for ages and managed to get his side to the Champions League final, but their league performance should have been better given that they’ve got a great squad regardless of not making any new additions for a year. They were well in touch with Liverpool and City at the turn of the year but faded badly and had to battle hard for a top four spot in the end. There’s a huge amount of promise for next season though if he’s actually allowed to get the Spurs bank card out.
This may be harsh on Unai Emery, who like Sarri is having the usual problems with managing in England for the first time, and his Arsenal side have looked wonderful at times going forward, while during their long unbeaten run they also showed character a backbone that had been missing during the later Wenger years. However, with the run-in they had they really should’ve sealed a top four place and that finish to the season was classic Arsenal – something that Emery is trying to get rid of! Still, they could well be in the Champions League next season if they can beat Chelsea in Baku and there are certainly positive signs going forward, but that defence still needs work.
Manchester United F
Jose Mourinho didn’t even get to finish the entire examination of a season given how bad they were doing, and while Solskjaer looked like a star pupil he perhaps flattered to deceive and now they’re hanging in the balance with a huge summer ahead of them. When the likes of Pogba, Rashford and Martial were flying they showed just what they can do, but as soon as Ole took the wheel full-time the wheels instantly came off! Given the expensive talent within the squad, to finish so far behind the pacesetters really is criminal – they’re right up there with the biggest under-achievers in the entire Premier League.
Phenomenal first season in the Premier League for Nuno’s Wolves, who went and finished as ‘best of the rest’ in seventh, made the FA Cup semi-finals and also booked a place in the Europa League for good measure! They could not have achieved more, but the style in which they played means their achievement is even greater. They played like a big club, played well against the big clubs and only really struggled against teams who packed defences against them – that will be the next step as teams will now fear the Wolves.
A strange old season for Marco Silva, but probably about the best he could do as Wolves were very strong this season despite spending a lot less on their squad. Performances were hit and miss throughout the season, but they really improved at Goodison later on when beating Man Utd, Arsenal and Chelsea with promising displays – which could be a good sign for next season. Consistency, though, was a huge problem and some of the performances were miles below what is now expected.
This is the overall grade for the season but Brendan Rodgers would have been handed a higher mark given the impact he had after replacing Claude Puel. Puel managed a few decent results, especially when beating Man City, but performances left the crowd cold and that ultimately cost him. There are plenty of good, young players at the King Power though and Rodgers could shine next season.
West Ham D
This may be some hard marking here, because on the face of it West Ham have finished where many suspected they might but there’s just something about them over the course of the season that made me think all was not right at the London Stadium. There are too many players here who seem to switch off when they don’t fancy it, as illustrated during their long winless run away from home just before the end of the season.
A decent season all-in-all for the Hornets as they maintained a challenge to finish seventh for a lot of the season but just tailed off as the FA Cup final filled their thoughts. They were tough and difficult to beat at home and produced some impressive results so a decent job well done by Javi Gracia. It’s hard to see how they could do any better next season.
Crystal Palace C
They stayed up, which is the main thing, and managed a shock win at Man City to boot, but their fans won’t be too happy as all their best work came away from home while Selhurst Park was devoid of goals and entertainment until the final day flurry. Zaha looks set to leave as well so next season could be even harder.
Benitez gets an instant C just for staying up, but for beating Man City and surviving with something in hand in the end he gets an extra mark. It’s not that he can’t spend any money, but the constant speculation over the club's ownership must make for a testing work environment and under those circumstances he did brilliantly again. We’ll wait and see if he remains for next season.
I’d actually be slightly concerned about Bournemouth after three wins in 14 to close out the season saw them go backwards from the last few seasons. It’s a tough one because their expectations should purely be survival but they’ve gone above and beyond that at times so this must rank as a disappointing return. Work to do next term.
A real campaign of two halves and fair play to the Clarets board for keeping faith with Sean Dyche when on their woeful run when many other teams would have pulled the trigger – and he repaid them by getting his team back to their previous hard-to-beat selves. They cannot afford another slow start next season though.
Ralph Hasenhuttl deserves a ‘B’ for turning things around at St Mary’s but overall survival by just a few points just simply isn’t good enough for a well-established Premier League team and the hope is they’ll start next season as they finished this. If they do that they’ll be top half no problem.
Chris Hughton paid the price after spending a few quid but only taking his side backwards and just about staying in the top flight. Relegation would have been a disaster, and very much unexpected given the start they had, but the FA Cup saw them take their eye off the ball and embark on a wretched run that almost cost them their Premier League status.
I’m actually marking Neil Warnock’s side up given that we all expected them to go down but they gave it a real go, especially under such tragic circumstances as well so you have to take your hat off for them pushing it all the way.
One of the biggest disappointments of the season, and top under-achievers along with Man Utd, after splashing out £100m to, if anything, be a worse team than the one that got promoted last season. A lesson to all that throwing money at a team without a proper plan simply won’t work, while switching managers also sometimes isn’t the answer.
They were always going to be up against it despite surviving last season, but they were even worse and really struggled to keep up with the pace, especially when it came to scoring goals. David Wagner knew what was coming so left in good time to get another job back in Germany!
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