Football Season Review

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Champions: Chelsea

Antonio Conte’s arrival brought Chelsea back where they firmly believed they belong and the Blues not just won their second title in three seasons but played some truly outstanding football that in the end saw them breaking the record for most wins achieved in a single campaign. Conte chose to focus on strengthening his defence in the summer and he signed Luiz and Alonso, who immediately became an integral part of the starting line-up. The campaign started with three consecutive wins in August, but the next month was a difficult won and Chelsea earned a single point from three matches. Back-to-back defeats against Liverpool and Arsenal made the gaffer think and he made the bold decision to change the 4-2-3-1 formation to the 3-4-3 he used so much while at Juventus and immediately this worked miracles. It would be fair to say that the title was won in the autumn and early winter as Chelsea ended 2016 on a staggering run of thirteen consecutive wins, which also brought ten clean sheets. Defensively the Blues were very solid, while with Matic and Kante dictating things in midfield they were also able to commit plenty of bodies forward. Kante was particularly effective, plus Fabregas was a massive weapon off the bench. Pedro and Hazard had wonderful seasons down the wings, which helped a lot as Willian’s campaign was disrupted in October by a family tragedy and he didn’t start many games after that. Diego Costa was the usual lethal weapon inside the box and he continued to score goals regularly. In January Chelsea lost vs. Tottenham and drew against Liverpool, but they still won six of eight games in the first two months of the year and the fact that Conte was blessed to work with an injury-free squad paved the way towards the title. Chelsea ended the campaign on a six-game winning streak, which saw them achieving the staggering 30 wins in 38 matches to convincingly confirm their dominance in the league this season. The campaign ended on a slightly sour note though as Chelsea missed on a double after losing the FA Cup final against Arsenal, but all in all the players and Conte had a year to remember and they are promising to return in 2017/18 even stronger.


Player of the Season: N'Golo Kante

№2: Tottenham Hotspur

It was another season of being nearly there for Tottenham Hotspur who enjoyed their best ever campaign in the Premier League and finished second in the league table but were once again not able to sustain the title challenge. Spurred by Harry Kane's goals, with the striker ending as the league's top scorer with 29 goals, Spurs were the closest challengers to eventual winners Chelsea. Their title challenge was largely backed by an excellent home form, with Spurs winning 17 of their 19 games at White Hart Lane, but crucial slip ups on the road against Sunderland, Liverpool and West Ham United meant that they fell short of the top spot despite a brilliant run in to the end of the season that saw them win 12 of their final 13 games. While coach Mauricio Pochettino will be disappointed to have missed out on the title once again, his side continued their improvement under the Argentine coach with Spurs notching up their best points haul, scored the most number of goals and conceded the least in their Premier League history. Kane continued to silence his critics with another excellent season in front of the goal and was crucial for Spurs' success this season while the emergence of Dele Alli and Eric Dier also bodes well for the long term future of the club. Spurs' needs though remain the same heading into the summer, identifying a reliable backup for Kane after Vincent Janssen misfired badly this season, while question marks remain on the futures of a couple of first choice players. Their biggest challenge next season though will be matching their brilliant home form at Wembley with Spurs announcing that they will be playing their home games at the stadium as they continue to build their new home. Spurs had played their European games at Wembley this season but failed to impress and they will have to step up their game at the venue next season if they are to challenge once again for the title.


Player of the Season: Harry Kane

№3: Manchester City

Josep Guardiola's introduction to the Premier League did not go according to plan as only a late surge in form helped his Manchester City side secure a Champions League qualification spot for the next season. Guardiola's arrival at City raised huge expectations and the Catalan coach was backed heavily in the summer as he made a host of new signings including a record deal for John Stones while Leroy Sane, Ilkay Gundogan, Nolito and Claudio Bravo also commanded a decent amount. All the hype around Guardiola seemed to be justified as City got off to an excellent start, winning their first 10 games in all competitions and playing the sort of attacking football that their coach has been known for. However a shock collapse at Celtic triggered a poor run and though City showed glimpses of returning back to their top form, they were never the same for the rest of the campaign. Their title challenge was over by March and City struggled to hold on to their place in the top four with Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United also fighting it out in the race for a Champions League qualification spot. Guardiola had been brought to improve City's fortunes in the Champions League but even there they faltered, losing out to Monaco in the Round of 16. Overall it was a disappointing campaign for City, with more being expected out of Guardiola and with a number of older heads leaving the club in the summer, the City coach is expected to once again spend heavily in the transfer window and put together a side that would provide a more sustained challenge for trophies next season.


Player of the Season: Sergio Aguero

№4: Liverpool

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William Hill

Liverpool returned to the Champions League this season, but many thought for long that Klopp’s men could achieve much more. The Reds started the campaign very well with away wins over Arsenal and Chelsea in the first five rounds and only one defeat suffered come the end of November. Klopp’s favourite counter-pressing and the top form of Mane, Coutinho, Firmino, Lallana and Wijnaldum made Liverpool a joy to watch in these early months and the Reds were scoring on average just short of three goals per game in the opening 13 rounds. December brought more joy and after four wins in a row, the last one on New Year’s Eve vs. Man City the Reds were sitting just behind Chelsea and looked like genuine contenders for the title. Unfortunately this was about when the team ran out of steam and also it was seen that the small squad lacked depth and quality options off the bench to be really challenging for the top spot. With Mane playing in the Africa’s Cup of Nations all January and many of the main players feeling tired after the hectic festive period Klopp had to fill the squad with members of the reserves and this was one of the main reasons why Liverpool won just one of their first seven league games in 2017. In this period the Reds also suffered semi-final elimination in the League Cup and an early exit in the FA Cup. Klopp was really furious that the few signings he had in mind for January fell apart and he simply had to keep working with what he had in hand. One thing Liverpool continued to be was very successful against their main rivals and the Reds actually were the only team in the top six that finished the campaign unbeaten in the ten clashes against those nearest to them. In fact all of the team’s six defeats this season were against teams that finished in the bottom half of the table and better focus could have seen the Reds finishing much higher. Late in the year Mane, Lallana and captain Henderson got injured and the top four finish was protected only because Coutinho and Firmino remained healthy all spring and kept working really hard both with and without the ball. With just one defeat in their final twelve games of the season, eight wins were achieved in this period, Liverpool did just about enough to finish a point above Arsenal in the battle for Champions League football and now Klopp hopes to add plenty of new players in the summer as his squad needs serious strengthening


Player of the Season: Philippe Coutinho

№5: Arsenal

For yet another year Arsenal’s season was marked by constant rumours and attacks on coach Arsene Wenger, who remained in charged despite the pressure and celebrated his 20th year at the club. However, Arsenal failed for the first time in 19 years to finish in the top four and next season will be the first one without the Gunners in the Champions League. The gaffer splashed a lot of cash in the summer on just two signings, with both Perez and Xhaka not seen as good as the money paid for them. Especially in 2016 this was hurting Wenger’s popularity because Perez was constantly plagued by injuries, while Xhaka’s early displays were a controversial mix. Still the great form of Walcott, Sanchez and Ozil saw Arsenal winning six games in a row in early autumn and going unbeaten in twelve consecutive rounds until mid-December. It was the goals of Sanchez and Walcott and the assists of Ozil that were pushing the team forward in this period but when the busy festive period came the Gunners showed signs of decline. Back-to-back defeats vs. Man City and Everton just before Christmas and two more consecutive losses against Watford and Chelsea early in 2017 put pressure on Wenger and the fans turned aggressively against him in early February after a humiliating exit of the Champions League in a 2:10 aggregate trashing vs. Bayern Munchen. By that time Walcott’s form had dropped dramatically and he didn’t start many games in 2017, with Iwobi also losing his starting position due to poor form. Arsenal continued to experience serious problems on the road in March and April and they lost four of their five away matches in this period, which proved to be the main reason why in the end they finished a point behind the top four. Sanchez remained the only solid contributor throughout the entire campaign, with Ozil’s form also dropped in the spring. At least there was trophy for Wenger in his 20th season in charge as the Gunners gathered themselves and in the FA Cup final at Wembley they deservedly beat champions Chelsea 2:1 to win their record 13th cup.


Player of the Season: Alexis Sanchez

№6: Manchester United

A campaign that saw Manchester United struggle in the Premier League ultimately ended on a successful note as Jose Mourinho lifted two major trophies in his first season in charge of the club and achieved the minimum aim of qualifying to the Champions League next season. Mourinho was brought in with the express purpose of improving United's fortunes in the league following dismal campaigns in the three seasons following Alex Ferguson's departure. United spent big in the transfer window, including signing Paul Pogba on a world record fee while also bagging Zlatan Ibrahimovic's signature on a free transfer. While they made a steady start to the campaign, winning their first three league games, things quickly began to unravel as United struggled to kill their opponents and though they dominated majority of their games, they lacked the ruthless touch in front of the goal. Heavy defeats against rivals Manchester City and Chelsea left United scrambling for a place in the top four and though they created a new club record of going unbeaten for 25 games, just over half of them were converted in victories. Zlatan Ibrahimovic was doing his bit by scoring goals on a consistent basis but the Swedish striker too was guilty of missing chances and it was at the back where United emerged stronger, with Eric Bailly's signing proving to be a big success while Ander Herrera also showed the sort of quality that United lacked in the center of the midfield. Despite a poor league form, United went from strength to strength in the cup competitions, lifting the League Cup following a controversial win over Southampton in the final, while also staying the course in both the FA Cup and the Europa League. Injuries in the second half of the season meant that Mourinho had to get his priorities right and the United coach decided to focus more on the Europa League which presented the best opportunity for his side to qualify for the Champions League next season. A narrow defeat in the FA Cup semifinals to Chelsea meant that United were left with just the Europa League to concentrate on and though there were scares against both Anderlecht and Celta Vigo, the final proved to be an anticlimatic affair with United smothering Ajax out to lift their first European trophy since winning the Champions League back in 2008. Despite the success, Mourinho will be aware that United are still short in some areas, especially in the attack following Ibrahimovic's injury that rules him out at least until the end of this year while a specialist left back and a central defender is also on the agenda for United during what promises to be another busy summer.


Player of the Season: Zlatan Ibrahimovic

№7: Everton

Ronald Koeman enjoyed a successful first season in charge of the club as he helped them finish seventh in the Premier League table which was enough to book a place in the Europa League next season. Though Everton got the season off to an excellent start, dropping points just once in their opening six games, a big dip in form midway through the campaign saw them struggle to hold on to their place in the top half of the table. An excellent win over Arsenal in December though proved to be the turning point of the campaign and while they did suffer defeats against Liverpool as well as Leicester City in the third round of the FA Cup, a brilliant run of form in the second half of the season saw them emerge as surprise challengers for a place in the top four only for Everton hitting another bump in form in the final weeks which meant that they had to settle for a seventh placed finish. Although Koeman will be disappointed that his side was not able to sustain the challenge at least for the fifth place, there were a number of positives for the Everton coach with new signing Morgan Schneiderlin emerging as a key cog in the midfield while youngster Tom Davies showed all the qualities needed to become a really top player. Everton will be heading into the summer with question marks over the futures of two of their key players as Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley are both linked with moves away from the club after rejecting extensions to their contracts and quality replacements will be key if Everton are to improve on their seventh placed finish next season.


Player of the Season: Romelu Lukaku

№8: Southampton

Southampton put up a decent showing once again to finish in the top half of the Premier League table for a fourth straight season but came the closest to capping it off with a trophy after making it all the way to the final of the League Cup. Southampton continued to be a selling club in the transfer window as a number of key players left the club including Victor Wanyama and Saido Mane while coach Ronald Koeman also jumped ship to Everton. Claude Puel was brought in as the replacement and while Southampton did struggle for consistency in their league campaign, they did finish eighth in the table though they fell well short of Everton in the race for a seventh place. Puel almost ended Southampton's long wait for a major trophy by leading them to the League Cup final but suffered a controversial 2-3 defeat to Manchester United due to poor refereeing that saw a number of crucial decisions go against them at Wembley. Despite the solid season, Puel has come under pressure after opting for safety first in his approach and the Southampton coach looked to have also rubbed a couple of players the wrong way. However youth players such as Jack Stephens and Matt Targett have been given a chance to impress, with the former proving to be an able replacement for Virgil van Dijk who spent a substantial time on the sidelines with an injury. Southampton may lose another key player in van Dijk during the summer but they are better placed to cope with any potential losses and should once again challenge for a European qualification spot next season.


Player of the Season: Oriol Romeu

№9: Bournemouth

Bournemouth enjoyed their best campaign ever in the top flight of English football as they finished the season in their highest ever position after a late surge in form helped them secure a ninth placed finish. Having just about secured their safety from relegation in the last season, Bournemouth were hoping to improve on the 16th placed finish and after a shaky start to the season, they quickly hit a good run of form that saw them occupy a place in the top half by December. Things quickly began to go south at the turn of the year as Bournemouth suffered a seven-match winless streak that saw them collect just two points that saw them drop down to 15th place in the league table but a timely return to form which included crucial victories against fellow relegation strugglers West Ham United, Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Swansea City helped them reclaim their place in the top half and finish ninth in the table. Bournemouth's transfer strategy had seen coach Eddie Howe had target young players with potential and while the signings did not really work out, including their record purchase Jordan Ibe who struggled to replicate his success at Liverpool, it was players already at the club who picked up the mantle with Steve Cook, Junior Stanislas, Ryan Fraser and Adam Smith all putting in consistent displays though it was Joshua King's goals that propelled Bournemouth into the top half as the striker ended the campaign with 16 goals. There is expected to be very little turnover in terms of personnel for Bournemouth in the summer and Howe will be keen to build on what has been an excellent campaign by once again challenging for a place in the top half.


Player of the Season: Joshua King

№10: West Bromwich Albion

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William Hill

West Bromwich Albion achieved their first ever top ten finish in the Premier League after what was a solid trouble-free campaign that saw Pulis’ men existing in the top ten pretty much all throughout. In fact the Baggies spent 20 weeks of this season in 8th place and for a time it seemed that they would finish there, but in the end just two points collected from their last nine matches saw them slipping a bit. Coach Pulis was on the verge of being sacked in August after failing for the third transfer window in a row to strengthen the squad properly, but still he added to the small group Nyom and Chadli, with both of them having really bright spells later in the year. What saved the manager in the early months was the solid start to the season that saw West Brom winning only two of their opening eight matches, but also losing just two of these fixtures. True to their nature and strengths the Baggies continued to be very compact defensively and also effective from set pieces at the other end. The steady displays continued in the winter and with six wins in the ten rounds between November and the beginning of January the mid-table finish looked pretty much guaranteed. West Brom showed great efficiency against those sitting below them and thanks to constantly solid results on home turf they looked destined to finish in the top half of the table from very early on. The one concern for the gaffer after the busy festive period was that the form of his main striker Rondon dropped and the Venezuelan went on an eighteen-game goalless run before eventually ending his drought in April. This was probably the main reason why the results declined after February. The other reason for the nine-game winless run with which the season was finished was the fact that the point tally was already great and West Brom had a guaranteed mid-table finish ever since round 29 when they beat Arsenal 3:1. All campaign the defenders were playing very well and all of Dawson, Evans and McAuley also scored plenty of goals from set pieces. Especially the 37-year-old veteran McAuley was enjoying every minute on the pitch this year and he ended the campaign with the career-high six goals to his name.


Player of the Season: Gareth McAuley

№11: West Ham United

What was being billed as a momentous season for West Ham United proved to be a stressful one for coach Slaven Bilic as his side fell short of expectations and finished just outside the top half of the league table. Having clinched a Europa League spot for a second successive season by finishing seventh, West Ham were hoping to mark their move to their brand new home by pushing for a place in the top six once again this season. The campaign began on a promising note as an excellent display in their first competitive game at the London Stadium helped them overcome Domzale's challenge in the third qualifying round of the Europa League. However they were dumped out of the competition once again by Astra while a run of just three wins from their opening 15 games meant that West Ham were struggling in the bottom end of the league table as pressure increased on Bilic to set things right. It was not until December that West Ham finally hit a consistent run of form, with six wins from nine games helping them pull clear of the relegation zone and sit near the top half of the table though a poor end to the campaign meant that West Ham finished 11th in the league table. Bilic had a number of problems to deal with over the course of the campaign, with Dimitri Payet's transfer saga proving to be an unwanted distraction for Bilic and though the club did manage to hold on to the player until the transfer window shut, he was not able to replicate his form from the previous campaign before he was finally sold in the winter transfer window. Injuries also disrupted the campaign, with Andy Carroll managing to make just 15 starts while record signing Andre Ayew spent the first half of the season on the sidelines and West Ham limped to the end of the season, with as many as half of their first team squad on the sidelines ahead of the final game. West Ham had been busy participants in the transfer window but barring Manuel Lanzini, none of the new arrivals were able to cement their place in the starting lineup and Bilic will have to get it right this summer, with a reliable goal scorer top of the list, if they are to challenge for a European qualification spot next season.


Player of the Season: Michail Antonio

№12: Leicester City

Nobody expected to see the heights from last season by defending champions Leicester and with very poor away form all campaign and much lower form shown by the big stars Mahrez and Vardy the Foxes quickly found life difficult in the Premier League. Just four wins in the opening 18 rounds and no away success put pressure on the squad, but at least in the autumn the fans enjoyed their first ever Champions League experience as Leicester topped their group in this competition. Vardy was particularly underperforming for the Foxes and he scored just 5 goals in the opening 25 rounds, three of which came in the same game, with Mahrez not much better as he was distracted all summer by possible transfers to much bigger clubs. Still the trust in Ranieri remained high come Christmas, but things changed quickly after Leicester won a single point from their first six matches in 2017 and also suffered an early exit in the FA Cup against a lower league team. Despite this poor run nobody expected that the most successful manager in the club’s history would be sacked, but this happened after round 25. His assistant Craig Shakespeare took charge on an interim basis, but after guiding the squad to five consecutive league wins and the quarterfinals of the Champions League he was allowed to stay in charge for the rest of the season. Vardy suddenly woke up once Ranieri was gone and it was his goals that helped the Foxes to move up the table and come the end of April to be not just safe, but also challenging for a top ten finish. Unfortunately Leicester fell just short of the top half of the table in the end, mainly because of their inability to defend set pieces that hurt them a lot all campaign and also because of their very poor away form. The Foxes won just 2 of their 17 games on the road this season.


Player of the Season: Kasper Schmeichel

№13: Stoke

Stoke City finished outside the top half of the Premier League table for the first time under Mark Hughes following an underwhelming campaign that saw them struggle for consistency throughout the season. Stoke had finished ninth in each of Hughes' three seasons in charge of the club and were hoping to kick on and challenge for a European qualification spot after the Stoke coach was once again backed in the transfer market as he brought in Joe Allen and Ramadan Sobhi while also signing Bruno Martins Indi and Wilfried Bony on loans. However with Jack Butland suffering a serious injury even before the season kicked off, Hughes was forced into chopping and changing the lineup as they were poor both defensively as well as in the attack in the opening weeks of the season. Hughes finally settled on Lee Grant as his first choice, with the on-loan keeper putting up a number of good displays, but it was at the other end of the field that problems continued to mount for Hughes. Bony struggled to make an impact and Hughes time and again overlooked Peter Crouch despite the striker ending the campaign as the top scorer with seven goals from 13 starts. Stoke once again spent big in the January transfer window, bringing in Saido Berahino but the striker too was not poor and failed to score a single goal in 13 games. With Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic also struggling for consistency, injuries hampering a settled pairing in the center of the midfield and the club already announcing that there will not be any spending spree in the transfer window, Hughes has a big challenge on hand in the summer if they are to improve on a 13th place finish next season.


Player of the Season: Joe Allen

№14: Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace started the season determined to avoid the survival scrape from their previous campaign and coach Pardew broke the bank in the summer to bring in the team Cristian Benteke. Three wins and two draws in the opening seven rounds quickly placed the Eagles in the middle of the table and with Benteke finding his feet straight away, three goals in his first four appearances, it seemed that Palace were in for a calm campaign. Unfortunately the trouble-free period was short and come mid-October Palace entered a stretch of six consecutive defeats that saw them collapsing into the relegation zone at the start of December. A win over Southampton to stop this run seemed to have saved Pardew’s job, but after collecting a single point from their next three games the gaffer was sacked just before Christmas. At the start of the New Year Sam Allardyce was appointed in charge but six defeats in the first seven rounds since he arrived worried the fans a lot. Allardyce inherited a crippled squad, by Christmas Palace already had five players out for the long-term, but he used his connections well in the winter and the arrivals of Sakho, Van Aanholt, Schlupp and Milivojevic added the extra class needed by the Eagles. Milivojevic quickly became a crowd-favourite with his hugely successful displays in the heart of the midfield and come the end of February Palace started playing just as Allardyce wanted them to. The Eagles forged their safety between rounds 26 and 34 when six wins and a draw were achieved and after beating all of Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool in April they soundly showed that they have a place in the top flight. Still the survival wasn’t confirmed until the penultimate round when a convincing 4:0 home win vs. Hull was the result that guaranteed safety. Allardyce’s arrival definitely started something nice for Palace in 2017 and with the new recruitments and Benteke up front giving the club a perfect base to build on the fans are expecting to see their team much higher up the table next term.


Player of the Season: Christian Benteke

№15: Swansea City

Turbulent season and three manager changes eventually saw Swansea surviving after the January appointment of Paul Clement proved to be the best decision made by the Board this campaign. Even before the season started coach Francesco Guidolin was under pressure for reasons outside the football pitch and despite winning their opening match away vs. Burnley the Swans were playing poorly and collected just one point from the next six rounds. The fact that Guidolin’s club-record summer signing Borja Baston got injured even before making his debut and never got going after that also didn’t help the Italian and at the beginning of October he was sacked and replaced by Bob Bradley. The American hardly convinced with his selection choices and tactics though and his reign lasted just 11 rounds, in 8 of which the dreadful tactics used saw Swansea conceding three goals or more. Come Christmas the Swans looked doomed, sitting bottom of the table and playing some really poor football, but everything changed when Bayern Munchen’s assistant coach Paul Clement agreed to take charge of the club for round 20. All campaign Sigurdsson’s playmaking abilities were the one thing standing out in Swansea’s displays and as he was given even more freedom by the new manager this benefited the entire squad. Llorente also proved to be instrumental with his goals after the turn of the year and five wins from his first eight games in charge quickly convinced everyone that if someone could save Swansea it would be Clement. This belief diminished a bit in late March and April when Swansea earned a single point in five rounds to collapse again in the relegation zone, but the players trusted their third boss and with four wins and a draw in the final five games they not only just survived, but actually finished well above the drop zone. Clement’s winter signings also proved successful and with an ambitious and vastly experienced in Europe manager and a decent squad that look stronger after four very good winter additions were made the future looks much brighter for the Swans.


Player of the Season: Gylfi Sigurdsson

№16: Burnley

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William Hill

Burnley managed to extend their stay in the Premier League for a second season for the first time in three attempts as they rode high on an excellent home form to finish 16th in the league table. Burnley had faced relegation in their two previous Premier League campaigns but the third time proved to be lucky for Sean Dyche's side who got off to a good start and were rarely involved in a relegation battle. Key to their survival was their form at Turf Moor where they won 10 of the 19 games played and once Dyche identified a settled lineup, especially at the back, Burnley put in some good displays in front of their home fans. Their away form though prevented them from finishing higher up the league table, with Burnley having to wait until the penultimate game on the road to finally register a victory as they beat Crystal Palace to secure their safety for another season. While Sam Vokes, Andre Gray and Ashley Barnes all chipped in with crucial goals for Burnley, it was their defense which was responsible for excellent showing, with the likes of Ben Mee, Matthew Lowton and keeper Tom Heaton consistently putting in good displays. However their best player of the campaign was Michael Keane, with the defender's performances catching the eye of the top clubs while also earning him a deserved callup to the England national team. Though Keane is expected to leave the club in the summer, Burnley do have a pretty solid core of players available and with Dyche expected to be given a bigger budget compared to last season, the addition of new players would complement the available players who have the quality to finish in a better position next season.


Player of the Season: Michael Keane

№17: Watford

Despite remaining out of trouble all season Watford finished just above the drop zone after losing all of their last five games. The summer was a busy period for the Hornets as coach Mazzarri brought in lots of new players and at least the first few months of the season hinted that Watford might be one of the surprise packages. Capoue was particularly impressive in these early games and the generally solid holding midfielder got on the scoresheet in four of the opening five rounds. Watford earned four wins and three draws in the opening ten rounds and despite their early exit from the League Cup come the end of October the Hornets were sitting in a solid top ten position. The problems started in the winter though as Watford won just two of their next twelve games, registering seven defeats in ten around the festive period. This poor run of results started when the main playmaker Pereyra sustained a bad knee injury in early December and with him ruled out for the rest of the campaign the forward action suffered big time. The fact that captain Deeney was also in poor form and scored just 3 goals in the opening 21 matches also hardly helped. All that said a run of back-to-back draws followed by back-to-back wins in January pretty much cemented their mid-table position and Watford played without much pressure after that. The safety was officially secured around Easter when three wins in four helped Mazzarri’s men to reach the magical 40 points and return to the top ten. Unfortunately late in the season luck wasn’t with the Hornets and after being hit by a series of injuries to centre-backs, for the final round they had five defenders missing, Watford lost all of their remaining matches and ended the campaign just above the drop zone, despite the fact that their safety was secured as early as round 33.


Player of the Season: Etienne Capoue

№18: Hull City

Hull had a second brief stay in the top flight and despite fighting hard until the very end the Tigers were relegated again. In the summer Steve Bruce left with a scandal just two weeks before the start of the new season, he was denied a transfer budget by the owners who are still trying to sell the club, his assistant Mike Phelan was in charge for the opening two games on an interim bases. Hull looked badly prepared for the start of the campaign with just 15 senior field players, but somehow Phelan achieved back-to-back wins and landed the permanent job as manager. This proved to be a rushed and very wrong decision though as Phelan definitely used outage tactics and formations, which saw Hull winning just one more game in the next 18 rounds. However, the Tigers reached the League Cup semi-finals in the autumn and it was only this good run in the side competition that kept Phelan in the job. On top of the small squad Hull had three players that spent the entire campaign sidelined, plus four more joined them on the long-term injury list from very early on. The patience with Phelan expired after the first week of 2017 and he was sacked only for Marco Silva to take charge. Hull were in deep trouble as the new gaffer arrived, but very quickly he showed good management and added serious depth and class to the squad with seven new signings, five of which were quality players that became regulars. The Tigers played poorly on the road all season, their only away win of the campaign was achieved in round 2, but Silva turned the home ground into a fortress and thanks to 19 points collected from 21 on offer at home Hull jumped out of the relegation zone in April. The gaffer was pleased that all of his winter signings Ranocchia, N’Diaye, Niasse, Grosicki and Markovic were playing very well in the spring and when beating Watford 2:0 at home in round 34 Hull looked to be safe as they had a four-point lead over the drop zone. Unfortunately the key match that changed everything came in the penultimate home fixture when an inexplicably poor display from everyone saw Hull suffering their first home defeat under Silva when the already relegated Sunderland beat them 2:0. This defeat saw Hull collapsing back in the bottom three with a must-win away clash vs. Palace coming next, but the confidence was squeezed out of the players and they lost 0:4 in London to suffer relegation even before the last game was played.


Player of the Season: Alfred N'Diaye

№19: Middlesbrough

Middlesbrough's return to the Premier League lasted for just one season as the North-East side were relegated straight back to the Championship after enduring an indifferent campaign. Aitor Karanka prepared for his side's first top fight campaign in seven years by overhauling his squad as the Boro coach was backed in the transfer market as he signed a number of foreign imports, with the likes of Bernardo Espinoza, Alvaro Negredo and Victor Valdes signing on free transfers while Viktor Fischer, Marten de Roon, Antonio Barragan and Fabio also arrived to boost the options. However barring de Roon, none of the new arrivals managed to hit a consistent run both in terms of form and in the team. Boro did enjoy a decent first half of the campaign and found themselves sitting closer to the top half of the table by Christmas though they had managed to win just four times in the process. A narrow defeat to Burnley on Boxing Day proved to be the turning point of the campaign for Boro as goals dried up and they hit a 16-match winless streak during which they were shut out on 10 occasions. With Boro dropping into the relegation zone, the board decided to relieve Karanka of his position but his successor Steve Agnew was not able to turn things around as Boro's relegation was confirmed with two games remaining. It proved to be a disappointing campaign in the end for Boro who were not helped by some poor performances by their key players, with none of them able to really put up consistent displays over the course of the campaign. Ben Gibson though did emerge as a key player, especially in the first half of the season and was crucial to Middlesbrough's solid defensive displays. Boro though face a crucial summer with a number of players expected to leave and their prospects for an immediate promotion depends on their ability to hold on to the core of the team.


Player of the Season: Ben Gibson

№20: Sunderland

Sunderland’s decade in the top flight came to a logical end after the Black Cats experienced a season in hell that saw them finishing bottom off the table and 16 points adrift from safety. It all started going wrong even before the season started when coach Sam Allardyce resigned to take charge of England. The Board brought in David Moyes, but the new gaffer failed miserably when buying recruits in August and January, plus after just two rounds he said publically that his players were not good enough to avoid relegation. These comments and the generally poor form of pretty much everyone saw Sunderland starting the campaign with just two points after ten rounds and the fact that none of those Moyes brought in played well put serious pressure on everyone. The gaffer might argue that pretty much throughout the entire campaign he was missing at least half a dozen players through injuries, but the truth was that he never shopped smart and also his early comments disheartened the squad. Some slim hope of survival was restored in November and December when four wins in seven rounds saw Sunderland exiting the bottom three for a week just before Christmas. This good run was achieved because Defoe continued to score goals despite the lack of support, but the veteran striker was getting more and more frustrated and also his form dropped dramatically come February. By that point Sunderland still had hope, only because Defoe scored 14 goals in the opening 24 rounds, but the striker found the back of the net only one more time in the remaining matches and after going eight consecutive games without a goal scored between mid-February and mid-April their destiny was sealed. Another awful stretch of two points won from eleven games in this period doomed Sunderland to relegation and the last few weeks of the campaign were a sad story. Moyes resigned at the end of the campaign, but now many think that the Black Cats will find it hard to bounce back up straight away.


Player of the Season: Jermain Defoe