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Premier League 2020-21: Highs AND Lows

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LONDON, United Kingdom

Manchester City were champions, Liverpool finished third and West Ham secured a spot in the Europa League.

The 2020-21 Premier League season produced drama and surprises, but who impressed and who has work to do?

Manchester City – 1st

Normal service resumed with a third title in four seasons. The £65m signing of defender Ruben Dias from Benfica was a game-changer, seemingly curing defensive vulnerability at a stroke. The title was inevitable once they hit their stride before the turn of the year and recorded 21 successive wins in all competitions. Phil Foden has been outstanding and such was their squad strength even Raheem Sterling watched from the sidelines during the latter stages.

The Carabao Cup was also won but the greatest glory may yet be to come as they prepare to face Chelsea in their first Champions League final.

Is it farewell Sergio Aguero, welcome Harry Kane this summer?

Manchester United – 2nd

Manchester United have unquestionably made progress under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and second place allied to a Europa League win, if they can overcome Villarreal in the final, will represent a successful season and that crucial first trophy for their manager.

Strange side, though, that often left you wanting more. Superb away form has been allied to indifferent performances at Old Trafford and a Champions League exit from a very tough group was a serious disappointment.

Bruno Fernandes has been outstanding while Edinson Cavani’s enduring class will be around to help Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood develop next season. The addition of another quality striker would help, along with the pace out wide of someone like Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho.

Liverpool – 3rd

Liverpool’s title defence was a non-starter once Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez suffered serious season-ending injuries.

Add in long-term injuries to captain Jordan Henderson, Thiago Alcantara, Joel Matip and Diogo Jota, as well as the worst home sequence in the club’s history when they lost six straight league games, and it is actually a small wonder they finished third and reached the Champions League.

It is a tribute to manager and players that they showed the resolve of champions to win their last five league games and rescue something from the campaign.

Liverpool’s season, trophyless as it was, can only be described as a very qualified success but they made the best of a bad job – and who will forget keeper Alisson’s priceless 95th-minute winner at West Brom?

Chelsea – 4th

Chelsea were eighth when Thomas Tuchel succeeded sacked Frank Lampard in January so a place in next season’s Champions League represents good early progress and there is still the possibility of claiming European club football’s biggest prize when they face Manchester City in the final in Porto on Saturday.

Victory would be huge for Tuchel and Chelsea and while they suffered a late wobble and needed Spurs to beat Leicester to reach the top four, it was job done in the end.

Mason Mount has been a superb performer but more will be needed from Timo Werner next season, while Kai Havertz showed real touches of class. How they fare in Porto will shape how this season is viewed.

Leicester City – 5th

Is Leicester City’s season a success after they won the FA Cup for the first time in their history or a let-down because they faltered near the finishing line and missed out on Champions League football on the final day, as they did last season, because of a home defeat?

There will be a mixture of emotions and the sense of missed opportunity but, when the pain subsides, an historic FA Cup win and fifth place in the Premier League must represent success for a Leicester City side that suffered its fair share of injuries.

I am landing on the side of success because that FA Cup win will remain in the memories of Leicester City fans forever.

West Ham United – 6th

Superb season. Exceeded all reasonable expectations to reach the Europa League under outstanding management by David Moyes. He was the towering presence, with it all underpinned by smart signings such as Vladimir Coufal and Jesse Lingard on loan, plus the growing influence of Declan Rice. The Hammers could not quite sustain a top-four challenge but to even remain in contention for the Champions League for so long would have been unthinkable at the start of the season. Now Moyes must be fully supported and secured on a long-term contract.

Tottenham – 7th

Grim season partially rescued by a last-day win at Leicester City that sent Spurs into the inaugural Europa Conference League.

Little else to shout about as Jose Mourinho’s ill-starred reign ended with his sacking in April just days before the Carabao Cup final, which was lost to Manchester City, and even the shining star of the season, Harry Kane, looks set to head to pastures new in the summer.

Kane is frustrated by a lack of success which leaves chairman Daniel Levy under pressure as he tries to find a new manager and cope with the discontent of the player and personality who has been a symbol for Spurs, while facing an increasingly unhappy fan base.

Huge summer for Levy and Spurs after a grim and joyless season.

Arsenal – 8th

Very disappointing season for the Gunners after the optimism of new manager Mikel Arteta winning the FA Cup. They will not be playing European football next season for the first time in 25 years.

Tough times for a rookie manager who will be under pressure to deliver at the start of next season after a season that simply contained too many poor performances.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has had a very indifferent campaign, the signing of Willian has been a dismal failure and Thomas Partey’s injury problems mean he has not fulfilled his potential.

Not all bad, though, as defender Kieran Tierney will be an outstanding future leader and young guns such as Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith-Rowe point to a brighter future – but no escaping that it has been a season of rank underachievement.

Leeds United – 9th

What a gloriously entertaining addition to the Premier League and a superb performance over the season. Marcelo Bielsa has done a fantastic job at Elland Road in producing a team that was entertaining every time you watched them and not just that, they delivered results and performances, which suggests they will be a future force.

Recall even Leeds fans thought my pre-season prediction was optimistic. Turns out I actually underestimated them.

Everton – 10th

Where do you start? Everton is a club never slow or shy of telling the world how right they get it off the field but supporters have every right to ask when they might actually deliver something on it.

Everton, under Carlo Ancelotti, allied an outstanding away record to utterly wretched stuff at home to end in a league position that cannot be regarded as anything other than a disappointment.

Big moments came such as winning at Liverpool for the first time since 1999 but then there were home losses to Newcastle United, Fulham and Sheffield United, among others.

Too inconsistent and often close to unwatchable at Goodison Park. Shafts of light for the future in the outstanding signings Ben Godfrey, Everton’s player of the season, and Abdoulaye Doucoure. Still too much deadwood and Ancelotti, who missed out on his target of European football, may well be spending big again this summer.

Aston Villa – 11th

Villa went into a decline towards the end of the season, not helped by an injury to Jack Grealish, but make no mistake this was a huge improvement on surviving on the final day of the previous Premier League campaign. Real progress.

Manager Dean Smith was heavily backed by his board and smart recruitment, especially in the shape of keeper Emiliano Martinez and striker Ollie Watkins, means there was plenty to admire this season. And who can forget that sensational 7-2 win over reigning champions Liverpool at Villa Park?

Newcastle United – 12th

Steve Bruce continues to fight an uphill battle to win any friends on Tyneside but the bottom line is this is a solid finishing place for the Magpies.

The criticism Bruce received was justified when they slipped out of the Carabao Cup horribly at Brentford and lost away to Sheffield United and particularly at Brighton in March, when it looked like they could go down after a 3-0 loss, but 12th is surely par for the course.

Newcastle’s fans are right to expect more but this centres more on owner Mike Ashley than Bruce and in his defence they looked a much more purposeful side when Callum Wilson and Alain Saint-Maximin were fit.

Wolverhampton Wanderers – 13th

The end of the Nuno Espirito Santo era after his fine work took Wolves into the top flight and then brought successive seventh-place finishes. Nuno and Wolves just seemed to run out of road.

He seemed to struggle to settle on the right system, although in his defence they were sixth in November when main striker Raul Jimenez suffered the fractured skull at Arsenal that ruled him out for the rest of the season. Diogo Jota was sorely missed and his expensive 18-year-old replacement, Fabio Silva, is very much a work in progress.

Crucial summer under Nuno’s successor. The return of Jimenez will be huge.

Crystal Palace – 14th

Farewell to Roy Hodgson at Crystal Palace after another safe and solid Roy Hodgson season. What you see is what you get. Tipped them for relegation but should have known better under Hodgson.

Organisation, hard work and no worries about bothering either the top or bottom end of the table.

Now Hodgson has gone and Palace must choose their next direction under a new manager and with many players out of contract. Transition time at Selhurst Park.

Southampton – 15th

Southampton faded badly after a bright start that saw them third after 13 games, running out of steam and momentum amid such optimism under manager Ralph Hasenhuttl. The Saints did not have main man Danny Ings available for key periods but there will be a feeling of underachievement. Suffered a 9-0 humiliation for the second season in succession when losing at Manchester United in February but the big disappointment was a shockingly tame performance in the FA Cup semi-final loss to Leicester City.

Brighton – 16th

Lots of plaudits and praise for manager Graham Potter, whose work is admired by none other than Pep Guardiola, who labelled him “the best English manager right now”, but Brighton’s problems were not enough wins and not enough goals.

Big victories at Leeds United and, in particular, Liverpool showed what they could do but it was too anxious for too long. Potter will hope for fewer worries next term as he plots the next stage of Brighton’s development.

Burnley – 17th

Burnley dragged it out a bit but once again manager Sean Dyche kept them safe on limited resources.

Struggled at Turf Moor but Dyche continues to get plenty out of his team without big budget luxuries, with Chris Wood’s goals a precious commodity. This may change under Burnley’s new American owners but it is still Dyche who holds it all together and is the most important figure at the club.

Fulham – 18th

Fulham improved after a start that made them look relegation certainties. However, a win at Liverpool was a rare exception for a team that played some nice football but had fatal flaws at both ends of the pitch. Scott Parker did many good things but not enough to keep Fulham up and they can have no complaints about their fate.

West Bromwich Albion – 19th

The club even Sam Allardyce could not save. The Baggies sacked Slaven Bilic, the man who took them up, in December and while they occasionally flickered into life – especially when they thrashed Chelsea 5-2 at Stamford Bridge in early April – they were simply not good enough to stay up.

Allardyce did oversee an improvement as the season progressed but not enough to prevent the first Premier League relegation on his record. He is not staying so someone else will have to rebuild in the Championship.

Sheffield United – 20th

What a fall from grace for a club that did magnificently under manager Chris Wilder in their first season back in the Premier League to finish ninth.

The Blades never recovered from a horrendous start, not winning a game until the 18th time of asking when they beat Newcastle United in mid-January. Wilder’s own outstanding five-year spell in charge ended in March with relegation assured – the remarkable win at Old Trafford barely qualifying as a false dawn.

The big-money gamble on young striker Rhian Brewster, bought for more than £20m from Liverpool, failed dismally as he did not register a single goal and Sheffield United’s fate was sealed long before the end of the season. Back to the Championship for a reboot.

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