We don’t know quite how it happened. As is traditional, there was a storm. Then lightning struck somewhere nearby. A power surge. A moment of darkness. And then, as the lights blinked back on and we all confirmed we were still alive, it appeared on our computer screens: “Premier League 2019-20 in review.”
The Race for the Title
Ultimately, a bit anticlimactic. A 5-0 thrashing of Spurs in August, victory at Anfield in November, title race settled. Manchester City’s 104 points is a Premier League record, but their season will probably be best remembered for the stunning stoppage time defeat to Leicester that kept them from finishing the season as invincibles. And of course, Shoegate.
The race to finish second was a bit more interesting. If you had asked a Tottenham supporter five years ago if they would take a season in which they finished second-place in every competition, they’d have said yes, but reality stings worse than anyone could have imagined. The League Cup defeat to Manchester United hardly registered as a disappointment, and City were always going to run away with the Premiership; keeping Liverpool at bay is basically a trophy, right?
As for Liverpool, well: last season they finished second by one point; this season they finished third by eight. Last season they won the Champions League; this season they were knocked out in the semi-finals. You could call it failure if you wanted to. But in truth, the standards at the top of professional football are so ludicrous that, frankly, all “failure” really means here is “didn’t quite nail perfection, again.” Although losing to Manchester United in such carnivalesque fashion will presumably sting a little. Who knew Harry Maguire could do that? Well, Spurs did.
The Race for Europe
As with last season, the scrap for the remaining Champions League places was the really thrilling adventure, and we have just two words here: Brendan Rodgers. Brendan Rodgers. No man has ever so entirely got back on his bullshit. Forty goals for Jamie Vardy. At least one team talk delivered entirely nude. Twenty for Ayoze Perez. That photo shoot. That other photo shoot. Youri Tielemans, player of the season. Stealing Pep Guardiola’s shoes. Wearing Pep Guardiola’s shoes. A week in prison. A prison escape. And all the rest.
Leicester’s glory was Chelsea’s loss, though it was interesting to see how the fans coped with having a manager they couldn’t really boo. The more creative among them upgraded their A4 protest signs to A3, and even occasionally A2, the better to allow space for the various caveats their outrage required. On the pitch, meanwhile, things went roughly as might be expected: some of the kids were okay, Christian Pulisic looked excellent until his unfortunate injury, and Lampard’s getting another season regardless.
Everton hasn’t finished above Liverpool for a long time, but this season they did at least manage to outscore their dominant neighbours. The front three of Kean, Richarlison and Iwobi looked even better on the pitch than it did on paper, and Everton spent all season terrorising even the finest defences. And who knows, if they could find a half-decent one of their own, they might end up back in the argument proper.
We’re less optimistic about Arsenal, who were slick, pretty, occasionally thrilling, and had a spine made of candy floss and dreams and wishes. A cynic might suspect that we wrote this review of Arsenal’s season before they’d even kicked off, but we’d be safe, because how could you ever prove it?
The Race for the Middle of the Table
Set up for success by a stunningly competent summer, the Hammers finished a respectable eighth, their best finish in four years. Sebastian Haller and Pablo Fornals turned in outstanding campaigns, but the real story was Jack Wilshere, who defied the odds to start in all 38 matches.
This also marks the first time in Premier League history that West Ham have finished above Manchester United, though the Old Trafford faithful don’t seem too concerned. ”WE LOVE YOU SLABHEAD, WE DO,” echoed around the league all season, as the fans paid tribute to their captain Harry Maguire: rock in defense, set piece scoring maestro, and star of the League and FA Cup finals. His signing was a revelation, a true bargain at £80 million. This league finish is a mere bump in the road for the Red Devils; with Maguire and new manager Michael Carrick leading the side, United’s future is bright.
Despite being stretched thin by Europe, Nuno Espirito Santo’s squad turned in another solid Premier League campaign to finish tenth, but it’s unclear how sustainable the Wolves project is. With superagent Jorge Mendes’ shock announcement that he’s quitting the football business to live in a Tibetan monastery, and taking Rui Patrício with him, there are huge questions about the future makeup of the squad at Molineux.
No one was talking about Southampton before the season, but it turns out that a man who finished second in the Bundesliga with RB Leipzig can coach. Ralph Hasenhüttl appears to be building a solid foundation for the future with Che Adams’ solid campaign and the debut of three new academy products. Also, Watford has a Premier League team. Each week, they fielded 11 professional footballers, and they played football well enough to not get sucked into a relegation battle. For that, they should be applauded.
Finally, you know that season Bournemouth have? The one where they start okay, then look like they might be in a bit of trouble, then win five on the bounce including a 4-0 over, idk, Chelsea, then end up in the lower mid-table? Yeah, that happened again.
The Race to Stay in the League
The best of the rest: Aston Villa, who finished in an ultimately comfortable 14th. Heaton & Mings may sound like the consequences of leaving a salmon behind a radiator, but it turns out they are also a decent basis for a solid Premier League defence. Nobody tell Everton.
They were joined in assured safety by Burnley, and while plenty predicted they’d survive again, nobody saw the method coming. Nobody predicted that Sean Dyche would, while on a mini-break in the Dordogne, consume a piece of cheese so strong that it induced a hallucinogenic episode; that the voice of God would speak to him as he writhed in psychedelic delirium; that God would tell him to start playing delicate attacking football and to reinvent James Tarkowski as a no. 10; and that all this would kind of work? Best of luck to Tarkowski at the Camp Nou.
Never has a team felt more “just there” than Sheffield United. Nondescript. Unfussy. Quietly scraped some 1-1 draws against top-half teams and finished on 41 points. Good for them! Crystal Palace’s survival was less assured: it turns out that selling your best defender and annoying your best attacker in the same window can put a club in a bit of a spot.
However, the vagaries of the season conspired to do Palace a massive favour: if the title race had been alive in the final week, Spurs might have picked a full-strength team, and Palace would have been in trouble. But the race was run, and those members of the Spurs squad that weren’t actually on holiday were certainly trying to remember where they’d left their passport. One Gary Cahill hat-trick later, and Palace were safe.
The Race to Get Back to the Championship
It’s sad that such a promising young Norwich side is about to be gutted. The Canaries finished one point from safety while playing ambitious attacking football, but they’ll be entering the Championship with a completely different squad. Offers are already pouring in for Max Aarons, Jamal Lewis, Ben Godfrey and Emi Buendia. How will Norwich rebuild with £100 million-plus in the bank?
Also looking to come straight back will be Brighton, and though the steady rise of Graham Potter has encountered its first serious stumble, in truth, neither he nor any of Brighton’s players need to take particular blame. Sometimes it seems that the Premier League itself gets tired of certain smaller teams, as though snobbery and elitism are embedded in the very bones of the competition. We can think of no other explanation for a side scoring sixteen own goals in consecutive games.
And finally, that Steve Bruce, he’s a proper football man. Don’t blame this on him. None of this is his fault. His 3-4-3 diamond with Miguel Almiron at the libero was genius. Imagine if Mike Ashley backed him in the transfer market and bought the players to fit his system? Newcastle would have been pushing for Europa League instead of finishing bottom by thirteen points.
We’ve doubled checked with SB Nation’s Experimental Quantum Physics department and they tell us that, as far as they can tell, it’s genuine. So there you go. The future. Or at least, one future. Maybe this one, maybe not. Maybe the very act of reading it is enough to destroy it. We don’t know for sure. The EQP’s emails tend to run on a bit.