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Record runs, Lingard’s lull, and VAR: Duncan Alexander’s Review of the Premier League in 2019

December 31, 2019

THE year is over. Everyone is wallowing in nostalgia for the entire decade, but if you do that you underplay the actual calendar year of 2019, because it’s scientifically proven that something that happened in 2013 is automatically more hilarious and/or extremely poignant than something that happened on a day on which you can still remember what you had for lunch. So here, then, is a review of the football in 2019. A year.

January

The world was shaken by the return of Peter Crouch to the Premier League, the leggy blond signing for Burnley from Stoke. He made only six appearances and failed to have even a single headed attempt on goal (one fewer than his goalkeeper, Tom Heaton). Even so, he retired in the summer with a career total 53 Premier League headed goals, more than any other player and more than 19 of the 49 teams to have featured in the competition.

January also saw Julian Speroni feature in goal for Crystal Palace at Anfield. He remains the most recent, and likely last ever, player born in the 1970s to feature in the Premier League. Until 2019-20 concludes it is the only decade to provide at least one player for every single PL season. Generation X, we thank you.
 

February

February 20, 2019 was the 20-year anniversary of Manchester United fielding an XI of Schmeichel, G Neville, Irwin, Stam, Johnsen, Keane, Scholes, Beckham, Giggs, Yorke and Cole for the only time in a Premier League game (a 1-0 win at Coventry). People up and down the country celebrated by saying things like “huh, I guess I expected them to have played as a team more, really”.

Back in the present day, Liverpool’s full-back hyper-combo of Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold provided all five assists in a home win against Watford. They’d end the season with 23 between them, three more than Manchester United’s midfield quartet provided in 1998-99. Maybe that’s why that starting XI didn’t appear more than once? Meanwhile Peter Crouch’s abysmal 2019 continued as Kylian Mbappe overtook him for Champions League goals. 

March

March began on the boil as Declan Rice scored his second Premier League goal, meaning that he has exactly the same ratio of goals to Danny Drinkwater (2:4) as you need to cook rice. They say you shouldn’t reheat rice but fortunately that rule does not apply to luxury content.

Elsewhere Manchester City’s Phil Foden overtook Diego Maradona for appearances in the European Cup, and the Champions League quarter-finals were completely absent of Bundesliga sides for the first time since Pluto was relegated to a dwarf planet. Finally Roberto Firmino provided one of the only entertaining moments in the Merseyside derby when he held a baby at the start of the second half, leaving a small human without any teeth completely dazzled by… well, you know.
 

April

The Champions League started to reach the stage everyone thinks about in the autumn. Manchester United’s brave adventure, powered by nostalgia and a hatred of xG saw them eventually humbled by Barcelona, the lasting image being that of Lionel Messi bamboozling Phil Jones, who was wearing a head bandage, like a vegan Terry Butcher.

Tottenham reached their second ever semi-final, going level with Arsenal in the process, and Cristiano Ronaldo’s decision to join Piemonte Calcio didn’t immediately work out as Juventus were knocked out by Ajax. It means that from 2007 onwards Ronaldo has reached the Champions League semi-finals in every year except ones in which a Toy Story film has been released. Don’t blame me, the mere messenger, blame Pixar.

May
 

Manchester City completed English football’s first ever domestic treble by annihilating Watford 6-0 in the final at Wembley. It equalled the biggest ever winning margin in a final (sorry Bury, 2019 is really not going to be your year) and was City’s 50th win of the season, as many as Manchester United, Wolves and Huddersfield managed between them.

That’s possibly not fair as one of those sides really underperformed in 2018-19, and I suppose Huddersfield went down too. Liverpool ended the league season with 98 points and having lost just one game, both monumentally new records for a team who weren’t able to win the title.

Helpful pundits pointed out Perugia’s Serie A campaign in 1978-79 when they went unbeaten but still didn’t win the league, but this was later revealed to be not very helpful at all.
 

June

Liverpool’s lack of domestic silverware was countered in the heat of Madrid as they defeated Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 in the Champions League final. In “not a classic” news, Liverpool took the lead in the second minute and were happy for the mere passing of time to bring them their sixth European title. At one point in the game the match had the lowest pass completion of any Champions League match of the entire season, including those ones played on artificial pitches in the snow while you’re on the train home from work.

Spurs ended the season with five defeats in Europe, only AEK Athens lost more in 2018-19, while Divock Origi ended the season with a career Champions League record of: three shots taken, three goals scored. Handy, that. In international news, England’s heroic attempt to win the first ever Nations League tournament ended in failure, with the country becoming the first ever men’s senior side to play in 3rd/4th place playoffs in consecutive years. Sometimes the brand is brand is the brand.
 

July

The worst month of the year for football, so not that much to remember. Frank Lampard took over at Chelsea and thus became the first person younger than Space Invaders to manage a Big Six club (Mikel Arteta would raise the bar to Donkey Kong in December), while Eden Hazard’s glamour move to Real Madrid was tarnished by the Belgian reporting for duty 7kg overweight. Struggling to envisage that? It’s roughly 12% of Manuel Lanzini’s entire bodyweight.
 

August

The Premier League returned with VAR in its back pocket, and with Tottenham getting a favourable decision away at Manchester City early on in the campaign it meant that they had had more successful VAR outcomes at the Etihad in 2019 than they do league titles. Liverpool’s season started with goalkeeper Alisson getting injured but luckily they had signed a good replacement, Adrian.

West Ham replaced their replacement Adrian with a bad replacement called Roberto. Liverpool were not able to equal their own record from 2001-02, though, when they named a different glovesman in each of their first three league games (Arphexad, Westerveld & Dudek). This Means More (goalkeepers).

 

September

By September Arsenal’s season was showing more warning lights than an Alderaan weather station. By the 15th Unai Emery’s team had allowed their opponents more shots than any other team in the Premier League and in the top-flights in Spain, Italy, Germany & France too. The summer signing of David Luiz had not begun auspiciously, with the Brazilian conceding two penalties in his first four Premier League games for his new club, after giving away only three in 160 matches for Chelsea. “Things are baaaad,” lamented Arsenal fans. Yeah, but they’re going to get worse.
 

October

Southampton 0-9 Leicester. Liverpool 5-5 Arsenal. Southend 1-7 Doncaster. It was that sort of month. We may never get closer to a team scoring 10 goals in a Premier League game than Leicester did on that wet night at St Mary’s. Jonny Evans was apparently the on-field statistician, urging his team onwards to a new record, which makes it INFURIATING that he missed a chance with a monstrous xG of 0.66 in the 74th minute. Jonny: be good.

The one game that did stink up the month was, inevitably, Manchester United versus Liverpool. As it stands, the only occasion Jurgen Klopp’s team have dropped points in the league this season, this fixture has an entertainment problem. It’s 15 years since a match between the old rivals was scheduled in the nice and traditional Saturday 3pm slot, behind closed browsers. You know, it may be time to do that again.

November

Gigantic news kept on coming in November, with Kyle Walker making saves (ok, one save) in goal in the Champions League, while Ben Foster was recording shots on target (ok, one shot) in the Premier League. It’s the game we truly love. Tottenham stunned breaking news twitter accounts by firing Mauricio Pochettino on the 19th. Dismissal purists noted that it was only the second time a Premier League club has fired two managers with the same birthday (Poch and Harry Redknapp at Spurs, Ian Branfoot and Dave Merrington at Southampton).

There was happier news on the 23rd as Chris Wood finally ensured that his surname sits atop the Premier League Building Material Goalscoring Charts, overtaking the unholy alliance of Steve Stone and John Stones on 26 goals. Forest Green were so excited they decided to build a new stadium out of Chris Wood but later downgraded it to just wood after complaints from human rights activists.

 

December

Jesse Lingard celebrated the one-year anniversary of his last Premier League goal or assist by wasting a chip in Watford. Liverpool somehow managed to extend and concentrate their lead in the Premier League despite going off to the World Club Cup (this also happened with Manchester United in 1999, hashtag: it makes you think).

The year ended with a monumental VAR implosion as the same people who were angry at refereeing errors in previous seasons are apoplectic at the freeze frames and the lines and the many, many armpits. Thing is though, there’s always something about to destroy the game. Diving, overseas players, the short-lived anti-swearing campaign of the early 2000s. But football’s fairly indestructible. It’s the imperfect combination of everything you love and a few things you hate. 2020: we go again.