football

The EPL Season: A Review

May 23, 2018

- Grant Whittington

If you paid close attention to the final round of Premier League fixtures for 2017/18, you’ll have noticed that the season ended on somewhat of a sour note.

With the EPL title and relegation battle largely settled prior to Sunday’s action, and two of the league’s Europa League representatives confirmed, all that was left was Chelsea’s last-ditch attempt to qualify for the final Champions League place.

There’s no doubt that the final day’s action did a disservice to the season however, which was often illuminated by some truly outstanding entertainment and the brilliance of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. Here’s our review of another record-breaking EPL season.

City Slickers – Pep’s Side Leave the Others in the Shade
After Manchester City outclassed defending champions in a 1-0 win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on September 30th, fans across the UK were bracing themselves for one of the most memorable title races in recent times. After all, this win left the Blues top of the table by a single goal from their city rivals United, with both sides having won six of their first seven league outings while averaging a little over three goals per games.

By the time that City arrived at Old Trafford in December, however, they had opened an eight-point lead over a stuttering United side while achieving a record equalling 13 consecutive league wins. This advantage was extended by a 2-1 win over Mourinho’s overly-cautious outfit, as goals from David Silva and Nicolás Otamendi punished two uncharacteristic defensive errors from set-pieces to decide the game.

This crucial win essentially ended the title race before Christmas, as City increased their lead to 11 points before extending their incredible winning streak in the EPL to 18 matches before the end of September.

Ultimately, this was one of several records that City broke during the season, as they claimed the most points (100), most goals (106) and most wins (32) ever in a single Premier League campaign. They also won an incredible 16 out of 19 away games, while Guardiola’s unique brand of football created an aura of dominance that enabled them to control games through possession while maintaining an exceptionally high defensive line.

City eventually won the league by 19 points from nearest challengers United, sealing their third EPL title after the Reds were beaten 1-0 by relegation-threatened West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford on 15th May. There were still five games to play at this stage, and the denouement came after the Reds had come from two goals behind to beat City in their own backyard and delay their title charge during the previous weekend.

The Chase for Europe and the Escape to the Championship
City’s relentless appetite for points and gold left their rivals scrambling for left-over crumbs, with Champions League qualification becoming a key focus for United, Liverpool, Spurs and Chelsea as the season progressed. For all their failures, United always seemed in control of second place, particularly after consecutive home wins over Chelsea and Liverpool in March (the Reds beat all five of the top six rivals in all competitions during the second half of the season).

Spurs ultimately claimed third place with a topsy-turvy, 5-4 win over Leicester on the final day of the season, although there will be a sense of disappointment after finishing nine points and one place worse off than the previous year. The same may be said for Liverpool, who only secured the final UCL place ahead of Chelsea following a 4-0 thrashing of Brighton on the last day of the season.

This left Chelsea having to settle for the final Europa League spot, having won just seven (and lost six) of their 17 league games in 2018 and struggled to defend their title with any great distinction. In fact, their points tally of 70 was 23 less than the previous year, while they also won nine less games overall.

At the other end of the table, West Bromwich Albion always seemed destined for the job despite winning two of their first three EPL outings in August. The club then endured a run of 31 matches without a win while seeing both Tony Pulis and Alan Pardew sacked from the position of manager, leaving the club adrift at the bottom of the table. So, although the side recovered to win four of its final six games under the stewardship of caretaker boss Darren Moore, this wouldn’t be enough to preserve their EPL status for another year.

Stoke also saw their 10-year stay in the Premier League come to an end, as a porous defence (the club shipped a league-high of 68 goals in 38 outings) and ineffective attack left them unable to recover from a poor start made under the management of Mark Hughes. The Welshman was replaced by Paul Lambert in January, the Scotsman was only able to achieve two wins in his 17 league games in charge.

Swansea became the third side to lose their top-flight status on the final day of the season, as they were defeated by Stoke in a game that they needed to win by a landslide if they were to overturn a nine-goal deficit over their rivals Southampton.

Players and Moments – Who and What Lit up the Season?
If you imagine that Mourinho’s mood was already dark after finishing a distant second to Guardiola’s City, he will scarcely have been cheered by the respective performances of Mohammed Salah (Liverpool) and Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City) this season.

Both players have set the league alight this year, having been previously discarded by the Portuguese manager during his second stint in charge of Chelsea. In fact, Salah claimed the coveted Golden Boot with a record EPL total of 32 goals in a 38-game season (he sank44 in all competitions), while de Bruyne became City’s dominant playmaker providing eight goals and 16 assists in the top-flight.

In a season that fused the old and the new, former England and Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney illuminated a relatively disappointing campaign for him personally by scoring arguably the goal of the season during a 4-0 win over West Ham at Goodison Park. The forward plundered a hat-trick during the game, with his third goal being struck from his own half after he intercepted a scrambled clearance by the Hammers’ keeper Joe Hart.

It’s hard to discuss the season without also referencing the departing Arsene Wenger, who decided to leave Arsenal after nearly 22 years at the helm. The manager, whose latter reign has polarised opinion among fans and spectators alike, should still leave with his head held high after revolutionising the culture and the outlook of the North London club, while his tally of three Premier League titles and seven FA Cup wins should not be devalued.

With Wenger’s departure and the promise that Manchester City are about to embark on a period of sustained dominance, there’s a definite sense that this season marks a watershed for the Premier League.

This sense will be compounded if a new England star rises in the wake of the Russia World Cup, and in this respect next season promises to be more entertaining than ever before.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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