The 2016-17 Premier League reached its end with everything going as expected on the final day.
Chelsea lifted the title as skipper John Terry was handed a heroes’ departure from Stamford Bridge, Antonio Conte following Carlo Ancelotti and Jose Mourinho in taking the title in his debut season in England.
The relegation spots had already been decided, with Hull, Middlesbrough and Sunderland combining to make it an awful season for the north east of the country.
Here’s a look at the season that was…
1. Chelsea are worthy champions as Conte does it his way
After already securing the Premier League following an impressive second-half of the campaign, which saw only three defeats in 2017, it could have been easy for Conte’s squad to take their eye off the ball. Instead, they smashed Sunderland 5-1, seemingly angered by the early goal they conceded.
The Blues delivered a record 30 top-flight victories in a 38-game season, ending with 93 points – something that sounded laughable when they were beaten by Liverpool at Stamford Bridge and then rattled 3-0 at Arsenal.
That blitz at the Emirates, as Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil took a lacklustre Blues apart, was what Conte needed to decide to do things his way. He ripped up the 4-2-4 formation he had been using at the start of the campaign, brought in the 3-4-2-1 formation he has previously used with both Juventus and Italy, and suddenly the new champions were good to go.
Marcos Alonso and David Luiz, signings both criticised in August, became key players, Cesar Azpilicueta took to playing centre-half like the proverbial duck to water, N’Golo Kante shone, Cesc Fabregas became increasingly influential as the season progressed – despite not getting as many minutes as he would like – while Eden Hazard and Diego Costa provided a clinical cutting edge.
The turnaround was astonishing, the title deserved.
2. King Kane continues to rise
At a time when, with the top scorer prize within his grasp, Romelu Lukaku couldn’t buy a goal, Kane ended the season in devastating form, firing four past Leicester and following it up with a final day treble against Hull.
That meant four of the six Premier League hat-tricks for the season were scored by the Spurs forward. After 25 goals in 38 games last term, the 23-year-old ended with 29 in 30 this time round, a phenomenal return that makes him only the fifth player score 25-plus in two successive Premier League seasons (Robbie Fowler, Thierry Henry, Alan Shearer and van Persie being the others).
Questions remain still over whether he belongs alongside the likes of Robert Lewandowski and Luis Suarez, in the very top drawer of Europe’s premier centre-forwards, and perhaps he is still a rank below that pair, who are the very elite.
But after 35 goals in 38 games in all competitions, he’s certainly heading in the right direction.
3. Pep sticks to his philosophy – for better or worse
Pep Guardiola equalled Ancelotti’s record winning start by a manager in their first Premier League season, with the Spaniard winning his first six games with Manchester City.
At that juncture, a perfect 18 points on the board, City looked on course to romp to the title, with Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva shining, Raheem Sterling flying, Yaya Toure out of the picture and the horrors of Claudio Bravo yet to show. But as City were shown to be flimsy defensively, Guardiola’s chances of a title in a third country were soon blown apart – most notably by Chelsea at the start of December.
Questions over tiki-taka were misguided, given the way City are attempting to play is more like Guardiola’s Bayern than his Barcelona, distinctly more about pace and being direct through the lines than “putting opponents on the carousel” as Sir Alex Ferguson once called it.
A distrust of his defence – where an overhaul is expected – meant City soon resembled Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle, looking to outscore opponents, bludgeoning teams into submission. When they were good, they were very good, but when their flaws were exposed – as at Leicester and Everton – it showed Guardiola and his side must step their collective games up next term.
Whatever the outcome, he’ll no doubt do it his way.
4. Liverpool must improve game management to mount title bid
As December turned into January, it was Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool who looked like the main opposition to Chelsea.
But a dismal start to 2017, winning just one game in the opening two months, saw the Reds fall off the pace eventually having to settle for a final day victory ensuring fourth spot; Klopp’s side couldn’t keep pace with the relentlessness of both Chelsea and Tottenham.
More will be expected from the Merseysiders’ next season, and – whatever is said – a title challenge is front and centre in the mind of the German coach. He wants to stiffen his defence, add another left-back option and keep hold of Philippe Coutinho, the side’s undoubted star. Getting a full season from Sadio Mane, who missed 11 league games, will also help.
But most crucial will be taking the experiences of this season and learning from them. Perhaps most importantly will be learning how to manage games properly. Liverpool threw away 18 points from winning positions this season – Spurs by contrast lost five – which is quite simply too many for any side hoping to mount a title challenge.
Klopp may like his ‘heavy-metal’ brand of football, but he needs to tinker if his side are going to play a tune that finally ends their 27-year wait.
5. Arsenal have to keep Alexis
Alexis Sanchez can be high maintenance. Sometimes he doesn’t want to be substituted, sometimes he makes his displeasure with teammates too readily known and sometimes he leads Arsene Wenger frustrated and feeling as though he must tread on egg shells.
Sanchez himself has spoken of his own frustrations, most notably that the Gunners haven’t challenged for the title: “The frustration more than anything is about the fact we could be challenging for the Premier League title.” Curiously, Arsenal picked up more points when finishing fifth this season (75) than when finishing second last (71).
Now they will spend a season away from Europe’s elite, Thursday night slogs in the relative Europa League backwaters the task for them to navigate next term. The focus for Wenger and his superiors must now be on challenging for the title once more. To do so, they simply must appease and keep Sanchez.
With just 12 months on his contract, he is a summer target for Manchester City, Bayern Munich and Chelsea. Wenger has ruled out allowing Sanchez to leave for a Premier League rival, but not abroad and Bayern are keen for a deal around £40million.
His 24 goals and 10 assists this season mean he played a direct hand in 44.2 per cent of Arsenal’s output, while his movement and the sheer havoc he creates amongst opposing defences will doubtless have helped with many more.
He may be high maintenance but his on-field performances have continually showed him to be worth the extra effort needed to fully keep him happy. And Wenger knows that Arsenal’s best chance of winning a first Premier League title after 13 years, lies with the iron-willed South American at its heart.
6. United hope Mourinho lands another second season success
It is often the second season when Jose Mourinho’s sides tend to come into their own.
At Porto, he won the league and UEFA Cup. At Inter, he retained Serie A and won the Champions League. At Real Madrid, he got the better of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, winning La Liga and on his second coming at Chelsea, he landed the Premier League after being third the previous year.
Certainly, Manchester United will be hoping for similar. At the start of the season, United were widely being tipped to challenge for the title, having signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan; the shadow of the previous three seasons was finally set to be cast away.
Instead, United finished sixth, seven points off the top four, having won just eight of 19 home games (drawing 10). They didn’t quite get the balance right and were by some distance the lowest scorers in the top six, some 23 less than Arsenal; that must be improved. After all, they lost the same amount of matches as the title winners (5), but contrived to win 12 less.
Certainly the Europa League has played its part, with Mourinho making that competition his No.1 focus in recent months. But whether his season comes down to success or failure now is down to one game. Beat Ajax and they’re in the Champions League, which was the objective. Lose to the Dutch side and it’s another season away from the elite.
Mourinho can point to Community Shield (which he does) and League Cup successes, but United have built themselves up as the top dogs in the Premier League era. Mourinho was hired to get them back to the pinnacle and will be backed in the transfer market this summer to buy the players needed to do just that.
It is the second season where he usually shines. Having finished 24 points off the pace, United now need him to shine brighter than ever.
7. End of days for busted flush Moyes
It’s been four years now since David Moyes was handed the keys to the kingdom, anointed by Sir Alex Ferguson himself, ‘the chosen one’ to take over at Manchester United.
Nine months later, the job had proven too big for him. Since then, it’s been simply down hill. A stint at Real Sociedad was brave but didn’t work out in the end, and his time at the Stadium of Light has been nothing short of a disaster.
Having replaced Sam Allardyce – handed the England job on the back of his workings with the Mackems – Moyes brought with him a negativity from the outset that simply grabbed hold and strangled the life out of the Black Cats. Whatever went on behind the scenes and on the pitch, he looked beaten from the word go.
Sunderland spent 261 days in the relegation zone, an astonishing 92.6 per cent of the campaign. They are anything but guaranteed to make an immediate return from an increasingly crowded Championship next season.
8. A big summer for Bilic
Eventually, it all worked out alright for West Ham boss Slaven Bilic. The Croatian endured a very difficult campaign, in which the Hammers flirted with relegation and suffered teething troubles at the London Stadium, but ended in 11th position.
However, with the club’s owners having grandiose plans to take the Hammers towards the upper echelons of the division, it’s a big summer for Bilic. He must strengthen his side defensively – they conceded 11 more than relegated Leicester – and find a regular goalscorer, unable to rely on Andy Carroll for fitness.
Crucially, they need another creator, someone to unlock opposition doors; Dimitri Payet created the most goalscoring chances for West Ham this season (74), despite playing his final league game for the Hammers on January 2nd.
Money will be available but the blurred lines that come with owners making public statements of interest in players and where transfer gossip is tweeted by the co-owner’s son need to be straightened. If Bilic is being backed, he needs to be backed to do it his way.
9. Gylfi’s got it
Gylfi Sigurdsson has been a shining light for Swansea since his ill-fated spell at Tottenham Hotspur.
Fast approaching his prime, the Icelander is now 27 and this was a genuine standout season for him – even as the Swans struggled.
Certainly, the Welsh club are indebted to the playmaker, whose devilish set pieces, eye for a pass and clean striking in the final third, played perhaps a bigger role in their survival than any other single individual.
He ends the campaign with nine goals and 13 assists, but looks likely to move on and test himself higher up the food chain once more. Paul Clement would be loathe to lose his star man, whose direct contributions to goals accounted for 48 per cent of his sides, but at £20million-plus, will have a major decision to make – especially if Sigurdsson eyes a new challenge.
Everton looks most likely, with Ronald Koeman tipping him to replace Ross Barkley, who looks set to depart Goodison Park.
Age apart, he looks every inch an upgrade; but if he does progress, it must be to play in the central role where he thrives, unlike during his time at White Hart Lane.
10. Pulis needs to become more than set-pieces
Another season in the art of Pulis-ball saw West Brom safe in record time, having reached the 40 point mark back in February.
For much of the campaign, the Baggies were eighth, and that they eventually finished 10th, in the top half, is a testament to the excellent early season work.
But then a Pulis side seemingly downed tools. Having taken 40 points from their opening 26 games, Albion managed just five from their remaining 12 matches, a lack of pace and creativity costing them in the closing weeks as they failed to score in eight of those games.
Albion end the campaign as the divisions set piece kings, scoring a league-high proportion of their goals from set-piece situations (48.8 per cent). They also conceded the lowest proportion from set-pieces (21.6 per cent).
But surely Albion fans are well within their rights to want more.