THE sheer arrogance of four Premier League teams deciding to reach the final of the two European club competitions means that only now can we assess how all 20 teams did in 2018-19.
Glass half full: The 22-game unbeaten run in the autumn seemed too good to be true but it was still 22 games long, like a full Preston Invincibles league campaign, and there was the 4-2 win against Tottenham, oh and Mesut Ozil playing well at home against Leicester and Bournemouth.
Glass half empty: Arsenal collected six of the 24 yellow cards for simulation in the Premier League in 2018-19. A semi-simulated European final in Baku ended in a 4-1 defeat to arguably the second-worst team to Arsenal could lose a European final against. Mesut Ozil assisted two Premier League goals all season, one fewer than Matt Targett. Spring next year will mark 10 years since Arsenal progressed through a Champions League knockout tie while the Arsenal Invincibles season is now closer to Michael Thomas’s goal at Anfield in 1989. Time moves inexorably forward.
Glass half full: Enjoyed a record 5-0 Premier League away win in the ‘university your cousin probably went to’ clasico against Brighton. Thumped Chelsea 4-0 at home in the ‘Bournemouth will spring a surprise at home to a big club at some point’ clasico. Ryan Fraser/Callum Wilson became the second most creative partnership in a Premier League season by combining for 12 goals.
Glass half empty: Conceded four or more goals on six occasions. The worst defence outside the relegation zone yet between January and May they were serenely in 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th or 14th. Unreliably reliable, but how much longer can they carry on like this?
11 – Fraser + Wilson 18/19
11 – Shearer + Newell 95/95
— AFC Bournemouth (@afcbournemouth) April 14, 2019
Glass half full: Recorded the oldest ever Premier League goal combination when Bruno assisted Glenn Murray in October. At a combined 73 years and 57 days, the goal is two years above Roy Hodgson at school and is rumoured to have stolen his lunch money. Won away at road network rivals Palace in early March; it was Brighton’s last win of the season, but enough to keep them up. Oh and they are the only team in Premier League history to have a 100% home record against Manchester United.
Glass half empty: Had the misfortune to come up against Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-finals. Scored only three goals in their last 10 games and ended a Premier League season containing Huddersfield Town with the lowest number of shots on target in the division. Something had to change. So the manager did.
Glass half full: Led the league in the aesthetically-heroic category that is defenders clearing the ball off the line. Extended their no-nonsense reputation by fielding nine players with a single-syllable surname. 29% of players to ever appear for Burnley in Premier League history have had a one-syllable surname. Pure. Dyche. That.
Glass half empty: Ended the season having allowed their opponents 652 shots, which was 65 more than even please-have-a-shot-we’re-Fulham. Sean Dyche got passionate about tackles when England defeated Spain in October, saying “Who remembers the last time someone wrote about a tackle changing a game? Who knows, it might start a revolution and we will be allowed to tackle again.” Burnley ended the season having made the fourth fewest tackles of any Premier League side.
Glass half full: Such a stylistically welcome addition to the Premier League they got their own Twitter thread:
Fans of Cardiff's 57% pass completion last season will be saddened to learn they've gone mainstream with a Brazilian-style 60.5% at Bournemouth
— Duncan Alexander (@oilysailor) August 11, 2018
Glass half empty: Their two games with Burnley contained just under 90 minutes of ball-in-play time (in total). One for the price of two.
Glass half full: Third place in the Premier League, League Cup runners-up and Europa League winners. It certainly seemed like a reasonable season at a glance. Jorginho made darts players melt in September when he made 180 passes, a Premier League record for a single match, against West Ham. He checked out of the season without an assist, though, the on-pitch brain of manager Maurizio Sarri often missing the killer pass. Sarri set a record for an unbeaten start by a new Premier League manager at 12 games, something that seems a very long time ago.
Glass half empty: Kepa’s refusal to end his Wembley match experience in February certainly provided 2018-19’s “well I’ve not seen this before” image of the season. A Premier League record defeat came at the hands of Manchester City, with Chelsea fans chanting for their manager and his philosophy to be abandoned at various points from February onwards. Trophies and discord, it’s the Chelsea way.
Glass half full: In Wilfried Zaha Palace have arguably the best player in the bottom half of the Premier League. In the past two seasons they have taken 1.4 points per game when he has featured, compared to 0.5 when he hasn’t. That, there, is the difference between survival and relegation. Good player, Zaha.
Wilfried Zaha's Premier League contributions for Crystal Palace:
2014-15: 31 games; 4 goals, 2 assists
2015-16: 34 games; 2 goals, 1 assist
2016-17: 35 games, 7 goals, 9 assists
2017-18: 29 games, 9 goals, 3 assists
2018-19: 34 games, 10 goals, 5 assists
Should it be more? pic.twitter.com/840CNc114n
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 16, 2019
Glass half empty: Wilfried Zaha is due to leave Crystal Palace this summer. A mice infestation at Palace’s training ground saw the kitchen given a 0/5 hygiene rating in August and the Eagles did not taste a home victory until December, which was hard for fans to swal…take. Effective away from home, Palace continue to have one of the least impressive ongoing home records in the Premier League. So much for atmosphere.
Glass half full: Without anyone really noticing, Marco Silva has turned Everton’s defence into a unit that can defend. They kept a home clean sheet against each of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United, the first time a club had done that in the top-flight since 1947-48, while from March through to the end of the season they kept a joint-high seven clean sheets, while only Manchester City and Liverpool had better Expected Goals allowed numbers. Are Everton…back?
Glass half empty: Everton’s Merseyside derbies in 2018-19 were a curious pair. They were set to celebrate a goalless draw at Anfield in December before Jordan Pickford’s high wrist manoeuvre gave Divock Origi his comeback goal. Then they were unable to celebrate a 0-0 at Goodison in March as much as they should have. It was the last time Liverpool dropped points in the race, so really was the moment they lost their title advantage, but who could have known that?
Glass half full: As per the excellent Museum of Jerseys account, Fulham wore seven different kit combinations in their first 11 games of the season. Truly a campaign for the ages.
— Museum of Jerseys (@museumofjerseys) 5 November 2018
Glass half empty: For almost the entirety of the season it seemed as if Fulham’s neutral section had been extended to their own penalty area as teams queued up to hand out the heaviest of treatment. Between January and April, Fulham conceded at least twice in 13 consecutive Premier League games, a record for a team within a single top-flight campaign, while just as they did in 2013-14, the Whites ended the season in 19th place, with the worst defence and having got through three managerial regimes in one season. It’s the variety that kills you.
Glass half full: Made what is known in win bonus circles as an “accountant crusher” with an injury time triple substitution away at Wolves in November. Six of the Terriers’ 16 points came against Wolves, in fact, in a rare case of domesticated dogs outshining their wildling ancestors.
Glass half empty: Relegated in March (Hexit was confirmed on March 30, one day later than the original Brexit date and one day later than Derby’s Premier League record) which is rarely a good look. It was hardly second season syndrome for Huddersfield as their goalscoring woes almost sunk them in 2017-18. 50 goals in 76 games gives them the worst ratio in Premier League history and Karlan Grant, signed from League One Charlton halfway through the season, ended 2018-19 as Town’s top scorer. The aim for 2019-20 is surely to end the season with a positive goal difference, something Huddersfield haven’t done since they themselves were in the third tier back in 2011-12.
Glass half full: Managers come and go at Leicester, but Jamie Vardy continues to last like a can of Red Bull in a cupboard of stockpiled goods. He scored City’s first goal under Brendan Rodgers just as he had under Claudio Ranieri, Craig Shakespeare and Claude Puel and along the way became the first Leicester player to score 100 goals for the club since Gary Lineker. Vardy may not present MOTD in the future but he will surely feature on it a fair bit next season.
Glass half empty: Rodgers left Celtic because there’s potential at Leicester. Really they should have done better this season, with the fifth best defence based on xG and the sixth best numbers when it came to xG goal difference. As it stands, the 2015-16 champions look well set for a challenge on the top six, but clubs who see that section of the league as their birthright are sniffing around Leicester’s squad. Who leaves and who stays over the summer will surely define how City do in their first full season under the new manager.
Champions of Europe.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) June 4, 2019
Glass half full: European Champions for the sixth time, that comeback against Barcelona, Divock Origi scoring six goals from nine shots on target all season, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson providing a combined 28 assists, 97 points, one defeat in the Premier League all season. Yes the wait for a league title will reach at least 30 years but 2018-19 will go down as one of Liverpool’s all-time great campaigns. Even their at-first-glance-insipid exit from the domestic cup competitions at the first hurdle worked in their favour, giving them a bespoke mid-season break that looked to be extremely beneficial as the season reached its denouement.
Glass half empty: Yes the last time they dropped points in the Premier League was away at Everton but in many ways the home draw with Leicester at the end of January feels like the one that got away. In freezing conditions at Anfield, ground staff cleared the Kop end of ice at half-time (the end Liverpool would attack in the second half, with the game level at 1-1) but Klopp’s team managed just one shot on target after the break. Perhaps leaving a sheen of frozen turf for the Leicester defenders to make a mistake on would have been a better approach?
Glass half full: The first team to retain the Premier League title since Dean Windass was playing in it, City’s haul of 98 points (to be paired with their 100 last season) was impressive enough, before they became the first team in English football history to land the domestic treble. City trailed for only 132 minutes in the Premier League, the exact length of Die Hard, and you suspect even Hans Gruber and/or the five imprisoned leaders of Liberte de Quebec would have their work cut out finding an effective way of stopping Pep Guardiola’s team in 2019-20.
— Manchester City (@ManCity) May 18, 2019
Glass half empty: Tottenham became the eighth different English side to reach a European Cup/Champions League, knocking out Manchester City in the quarter-finals. City look certain to be the ninth club to do it but every year that they don’t, it becomes a little more of a (Jordi) albatross around their necks. A full season from a fit Kevin De Bruyne would help: man of the match in the FA Cup final, the Belgian assisted fewer Premier League goals in 2018-19 than Alexis Sanchez, which does not fit anyone’s narrative (except, maybe, Alexis Sanchez’s).
Glass half full: Ole’s at the wheel and he was steering along the path of the true believers in mid-winter, taking the reins from Jose Mourinho when everything looked lost. His first match was a 5-1 win at Cardiff, the first time United had scored 5+ in a league game since Alex Ferguson’s final game in 2013. United would go on to win their first six games under the Norwegian, the best start by a manager in the club’s history. Then came Paris. bUT wHAT aBOUT tHE uNDERLYING nUMBERS??
Glass half empty: United’s season was like an expensive sandwich made with stale bread. Bookended by dire spells but with something nice in the middle. They kept just two clean sheets at home in the league all season, and ended with a defeat to Cardiff that may be as misleading as the win there in Solskjaer’s first game. The defence is beyond repair, and conceded 54 goals in the league, the most since the late 1970s, while up front Alexis Sanchez was the first player to have a shot in the Premier League in 2018-19 but ended the season with just three efforts on target in his last 14 appearances. In truth United weren’t as bad in the closing few months as results suggested, just as they weren’t as good as Solskjaer’s rampant opening spell indicated. Even so, who can tell which version will turn up in 2019-20?
Glass half full: Newcastle and Rafa Benitez will always have November, when they won three out of three and he won the Premier League manager of the month award. Those nine points, and Benitez’s annual prince of parsimony act kept Newcastle largely out the relegation battle but it is the proposed takeover of the club that promises hope in 2019, for the fans if not Benitez’s long-term prospects.
Glass half empty: 90s kids may remember that St James’ Park was one of the Premier League’s fortresses, but no longer. 10 home defeats was the most the club have suffered since 1988-89 when the fans at least had Mirandinha to worship.
Glass half full: Southampton truly are the club of the niche record. From Ali Dia’s day of destiny to Sadio Mane’s 2m 56s hat-trick in 2015, Saints love dominating outlandishly. The biggest honour they were missing was the Premier League’s fastest goal, which had been held by Tottenham’s Ledley King (9.82s) since 2000. Southampton’s midweek rearranged game at Watford was on no-one’s radar until Shane Long netted after 7.69 seconds. Job done. That one won’t be beaten for a while.
Glass half empty: Became only the third team in Premier League history to win none of their opening seven home games and not go down. Mark Hughes can claim credit for the first bit, Ralph Hasenhüttl the second.
Glass half full: Tottenham haven’t signed a player since Steve Sedgley and played three quarters of the season with their home in an unfinished state like the third part of a Grand Designs episode, yet still reached their first ever European Cup final and secured a top four finish for the fourth season in a row, the first time they’ve done this since the 1960s. They’re not quite as good as they were back then, but they’re not far off.
Mauricio Pochettino made no signings last summer and still took Spurs to the Champions League final!
Incredible manager pic.twitter.com/FryB84azDG
— Transfer News (@PurelyFootball) May 8, 2019
Glass half empty: The most defeats Tottenham have suffered in a single season is 25 in 1991-92, only five more than they did in 2018-19. They did reach the European Cup final this time round, though, so I think 1991-92 was worse. Even so, Spurs’ magical let’s-abandon-draws-campaign is unlikely to be repeated in 2019-20 which will no doubt reduce the number of losses but may not increase the drama or glory.
Glass half full: Won their first four Premier League games, to basically ensure survival before the first international break had arrived. Top-flight status guaranteed, Watford took the FA Cup seriously and reached the final for the first time since 1984.
Glass half empty: Watford lost 6-0 in the FA Cup final, equalling Derby’s record final defeat against Bury in 1903. From March to the end of the season, Watford had the worst performing defence; failing to keep a clean sheet and allowing their opponents better chances, based on xG, than any other side, even Huddersfield. Now this could be filed under: team reaches FA Cup final and takes their eye off ball, or it could be something more worrying. The Hornets became only the second team in Premier League history to win their first four games of a season but finish outside the top seven, along with Charlton Athletic in 2005-06. Whatever happened to them?
West Ham United
Glass half full: Estadio Rutherford has new claret carpet and West Ham delighted in their unofficial position as the Premier League’s chief purveyors of the emotion formerly known as banter. Toying with us by losing their opening four games, laughing at us by winning four in a row in December, becoming the first away team to win at Tottenham’s new ground (just as they were at the Emirates in 2007). The highest placed London club not to reach a European final this season, although they were certainly watching those that were:
— West Ham United (@WestHamUtd) June 1, 2019
West Ham United, we salute you.
Glass half empty: Last year I wrote: Since the start of 2016-17, West Ham’s second most creative player in the Premier League is Dimitri Payet, who departed the club in January 2017. It is now May 2018. Well it is now June 2019 and Payet is still up there, in third place. Hopes are high that by the third anniversary of Payet’s departure in January 2020 some more players will have overtaken him.
Glass half full: The best points haul by a promoted team since Ipswich 18 years ago, Wolves justified all those chats at barbecues last summer when you loudly predicted they would come seventh, by coming seventh. A small but perfectly formed squad (for much of the season Wolves were on course to equal Liverpool’s Premier League record of only 19 players used) combined excellently unless they were playing Huddersfield. Ruben Neves confounded accepted boundaries by having only three touches in the box all season but scoring four times, Diogo Jota established a stan account for Raul Jiminez by assisting him five times and him alone, and Wanderers ended the season by qualifying for Europe for the first time since 1980.
Glass half empty: Accepted wisdom when it comes to Wolves is that their excellent record against the Big Six this season (W4 D4 L4) and their relative struggles against the strugglers means they can only get better in 2019-20 when they learn how to bat aside the teams in the bottom half. But what if they lose the ability to win against Chelsea and Manchester United and Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur? And what if they get tied up in a European campaign that impacts their Premier League form? In other words, what if they’re much more like that Ipswich team than we thought?