Guardiola gets his true Man City moment
It seems strange to cite an occasion when Manchester City almost blew the title as Pep Guardiola’s greatest moment as their manager but for all the wonderful football, for all the dominance that has led to four Premier League titles in five seasons, this was different.
It was magical and Guardiola had perhaps sensed it beforehand. His programme notes alluded to those memorable moments of the past, perhaps craving one of his own.
“How many times in our more than one hundred years of history have we lived what we are going to live this afternoon together? How many? At Brighton three years ago? The historical Sergio 93:20 moment? Paul Dickov at Wembley in 99… Yes… a few times in our lives.”
This was something of that ilk – even ending in the same 3-2 result that did for Queens Park Rangers in such crazy circumstances inside the same stadium a decade ago.
A football club is the sum of the stories it tells about itself. This will go down in lore, adding to the belief that anything is possible. They will talk about it, write about it, sing about it. Guardiola’s team have done many things. They had never before done this.
Zinchenko and Gundogan turn the game
Tactically, of course, this was a monstrosity for 45 minutes and then a panic-induced living nightmare for much of the second half too. John Stones at right-back offered little, Fernandinho, playing in the centre of defence, found himself tormented by Ollie Watkins.
Guardiola got his substitutions right if not his starting line-up. The half-time introduction of OIeksandr Zinchenko for Fernandinho moved Stones into the centre and ensured he had a back four all comfortable in their roles rather than two men playing out of position.
The fluidity improved and the chances started to come. Raheem Sterling made a difference too but it was the decision to turn to Ilkay Gundogan in favour of Bernardo Silva – and instead of Jack Grealish – that proved decisive.
It was not the desperation move that others might have opted for. But Gundogan’s knack for ghosting into the penalty box was exactly what was required. He did it twice after coming on and that changed everything.
Guardiola does not always get it right and this nearly went horribly wrong. But amid all the nerves, this was a cool call.
Exciting times ahead for Howe’s Newcastle
Newcastle and their fans surely cannot wait for next season to get going after a seismic turnaround in their fortunes and results following the appointment of Eddie Howe in place of Steve Bruce back in November.
The Magpies were seemingly heading for the Championship when the former Bournemouth boss arrived at St James’ Park, only for form worthy of a top-four bid to propel the club rapidly up the table to a highly respectable 11th-place finish.
So much so, in fact, that this year Newcastle have managed to pick up an incredible 38 points in the Premier League (W12 D2 L5), a haul bettered only by three sides: Liverpool (51), Man City (43) and Tottenham (41).
And considering Newcastle’s Saudi owners are also set to back Howe significantly in the transfer market this summer, a challenge for the Champions League places next season surely cannot be ruled out.
Arsenal facing crucial summer
Mikel Arteta made no effort to hide his disappointment at Arsenal’s failure to clinch a top-four finish after their 5-1 win over Everton. He described the “feeling of guilt” as “painful”, saying he wasn’t in the right frame of mind to make a “fair assessment” of their season.
When he is, though, and the lingering pain of Monday’s defeat at Newcastle has subsided, he will surely see the season as one of progress. Even a fifth-placed finish is better than most expected. A top-four finish would have wildly exceeded expectations.
Against Everton, there were reminders of why the Emirates Stadium now bubbles with optimism. In Martin Odegaard, Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka, they possess three of the most exciting young players in the country – and all of them will get better.
Arteta has nurtured those players well and built strong foundations. He has overhauled the squad, changed the culture and recreated a sense of unity between players and fans which had long been lost.
But the challenge now is to keep building.
This summer will be crucial. Arsenal’s recruitment last year helped to lower the average age of the squad. The clear-out of high-earners on downward trajectories lowered the wage bill.
Now, though, they need to add experience, greater depth, and more quality in key positions in order to ensure they can avoid costly collapses like those at Tottenham and Newcastle – and cope with the gruelling schedule of Europa League football.
“You can see what we have on the pitch now and what this club had on the pitch 10 or 20 years ago,” he said in his post-match press conference at the Emirates Stadium. “We know where we have to go and we are not going to stop.”
They cannot afford to.
Hard work starts now for Lampard and Everton
Everton’s race was already run when they turned up at the Emirates Stadium!
Before the game, Frank Lampard’s name rung out from the away end. They’d achieved what they needed to achieve on Thursday night when that thrilling comeback against Crystal Palace secured their Premier League status for next season.
It was an emotional night at Goodison, and it was clear to see it had taken a lot out of them.
Without Jordan Pickford and Richarlison, and with Seamus Coleman and Anthony Gordon on the bench, it proved a difficult task against Arsenal, who ran out heavy winners at the Emirates Stadium.
Of course, the result matters little right now and despite the scoreline, the Everton fans in attendance in north London were in celebratory mood after their escape from relegation. One of the biggest cheers of the afternoon came from the away end when news of Man City’s dramatic comeback to secure the title ahead of Liverpool filtered through.
However, defeat is another reminder of what a difficult season this has been for the Toffees. It should never have come to this for an Everton squad full of established internationals and the challenge now is to stop it ever getting to this point again.
Lampard – who replaced Rafael Benitez in January – has achieved what he set out to do but he will know this is just the start. He will know the work starts right now to get this Everton side moving back in the right direction, and unlike his predecessor, he has a united fanbase right behind as he tries to do it.
James helps to bail out Blues
Chelsea’s season has been a tough one to evaluate, with the sanctions placed on the club overshadowing events on the field in recent months.
Thomas Tuchel’s side also lost on penalties to a generational Liverpool side in successive cup finals and, while they won the European Super Cup and Club World Cup, failed to come close to lifting the Premier League or Champions League.
As such, Chelsea’s successes this season can perhaps be seen in the progress of a handful of their younger players on the field, including Kai Havertz and Mason Mount, who was crowned as the club’s player of the year on the pitch at full-time.
But perhaps the biggest improvement has come from Reece James, who once again was crucial for the Blues as they salvaged an all-too-rare home win against Watford.
The England international’s versatility was again utilised by Tuchel, as he began the game at wing-back before moving to full-back when the head coach switched his formation in the second half.
But his defensive responsibilities didn’t prevent James from making his way to the byline as the game headed towards full-time, where he twisted his man inside out before digging out a cross with the outside of his foot that perfectly found Barkley at the far post.
James ends the season with nine Premier League assists – more than twice as many as in his previous two campaigns combined. A sign of the 22-year-old’s creativity is that only Liverpool duo Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson recorded more assists during the campaign.
No matter what happens to Chelsea’s squad this summer, it is sure that James will be a key pillar in the seasons ahead.
Hodgson heads into retirement with another defeat
Roy Hodgson thought his Watford side had earned a deserved point at Stamford Bridge in his final game in management, but the game ultimately ended in familiar fashion for the Hornets – defeat.
The 74-year-old won just two of his 18 matches in charge at Vicarage Road, with the most recent of those coming over two months ago, but he felt his side were worthy of a point for their efforts in west London.
However, Hodgson was left to rue an “honourable” defeat which he described as “typical” thanks to Ross Barkley’s late header.
While the Watford role was maybe one job too many for Hodgson, relegation doesn’t take away from a remarkable managerial career that spanned five decades and saw him win trophies in five different countries.
West Ham should hold their heads high
The worst part for West Ham in defeat at Brighton would have been hearing Manchester United had been beaten at Crystal Palace.
The Hammers needed United to slip up at Selhurst Park while winning themselves to secure sixth and a Europa League place. Boss David Moyes would have stressed how important it was to hold up their end of the bargain.
And they were on course to achieve that when Michail Antonio put them ahead just minutes after Palace took the lead until Brighton responded with a superb second half performance to force West Ham to settle for the Europa Conference League next year.
Moyes was unable to shift his focus away from his side’s disappointing display although he will know the bigger picture is West Ham have enjoyed a fine season.
Seventh in the Premier League and a memorable run to the semi-finals of the Europa League while seeing the likes of Declan Rice and Jarrod Bowen develop into top Premier League players is undoubtedly a success.
The big question now is whether they will be able to hold onto their stars and add quality to not only move them closer to sixth place, but to try and gate-crash the top-four.
Don’t get carried away, Brighton fans
The problem with securing a club-best Premier League finish is that expectations for next season will be sky-high.
Graham Potter has been one of the managers of the season by lifting Brighton to a memorable ninth place having finished 16th last term.
The feeling this time last year was that the Seagulls were better than their position suggested after statistically underperforming.
Things have now levelled out with this their best Premier League season for points (51), wins (12), defeats (11) and goals conceded (44). Brighton supporters may well dream of where they would have ended up if they’d turned a few of their 15 draws into victories.
Brighton finished with the 16th-best home record in the division yet were fifth behind only Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham on the road. It is clear they need to find a goalscorer in the summer after no player hit double figures – Neal Maupay coming closest with nine.
But top of the list should be Brighton supporters managing expectations next season – at one point during this record-breaking season they booed their team off at home. Potter always speaks of the aim for his side being to make progress which does not necessarily mean finishing in a higher position.
As Burnley’s gamble backfires: what now?
Burnley’s worst fears heading into a pivotal final day of the Premier League season came to pass and, after a six-season stint in the top flight, the Clarets are heading back to the Championship.
Having stepped into the breach vacated by Sean Dyche after more than a decade at Turf Moor, caretaker boss Mike Jackson had offered hope, however slim, that Burnley could just save their skins. In the end, their valiant survival bid fell agonisingly short, just three points the gap to 17th-placed Leeds United and safety.
Jackson conceded the pain of relegation would haunt him forever, and Burnley’s relinquishing of a seat at English football’s top table could be one which haunts the club’s very existence at the top of the pyramid.
Club accounts confirmed a “substantial” portion of a £65m loan taken out during ALK Capital’s leveraged takeover would have to be repaid in the event of their relegation. Now a reality, the scramble for funds could see the club’s assets raided.
Captain Ben Mee and defender James Tarkowski headline a list of nine players out of contract, the relegation release clause in Maxwel Cornet’s contract raises concerns, while England goalkeeper Nick Pope and Dwight McNeil are set to be preyed upon following relegation.
An overhaul is needed at Turf Moor, on and off the pitch, starting with the appointment of Sean Dyche’s long-term successor.
Jackson has earned the right to be in contention after coming so close to keeping Burnley up, but the club would be forgiven for targeting a higher-profile appointment given the scale of the task and uncertainty placed in front of them.
Wasteful Wolves need striker to improve
Thirty-eight goals in 38 games. There’s no surprise as to where Wolves’ first priority in the transfer window will be after this season: A striker.
Only the three relegated sides – Burnley, Watford and Norwich – scored fewer goals this season and Sunday’s defeat at Liverpool highlighted Wolves’ potency in front of goal.
After making such a brilliant start through Pedro Neto’s opener, Bruno Lage’s side should have built on their advantage with several missed opportunities to double their lead. Leandro Dendoncker blazed over from inside the box when he should have scored, while Hwang Hee-chan had a one-on-one saved by Alisson Becker.
Hwang had two more chances after the break, seeing one effort saved by the Liverpool goalkeeper and heading another wide. Raul Jimenez then went clear but fluffed his lines in trying to set up Hwang for a tap-in.
Wolves end this Premier League season with their top scorers being Jimenez and Daniel Podence on six goals. Hwang and Ruben Neves are next on the list while defender Conor Coady is joint-fourth with four goals this term. This simply has to change if Wolves want to thin about competing for European spots.
Lage has built a solid base for Wolves with a superb defensive structure marshalled by outstanding goalkeeper Jose Sa. They just need that out and out striker with Jimenez and Co struggling.
Norwich endure sorry farewell
Norwich were never really going to spoil Tottenham’s afternoon. Their fate has been sealed since April 30 and they endured a sorry farewell to the Premier League on their own turf.
The Canaries picked up just 12 points from their 19 home league games, their lowest points tally on home soil in a single Football League season. Their 26 games lost in the Premier League during 2021/22 was second only to the 2019/20 campaign (27).
Dean Smith’s side never really got going against Spurs and another miserable performance – their 12th defeat in 15 league games – ultimately showed why they will be playing in the Championship again.
“It was painful,” Smith said. “I think the first half summed our season up where we start OK, we gave two really poor goals away and when we have moments, we don’t take them.
“It has been hard for the last four games, hard for motivation when you know you are a Championship team next season.
“Historically this football club has found a way to get out of the Championship and we have to do that again.”
It is a tough ask for Norwich in an unforgiving league, but Smith will be confident he can lead them back to the top flight at his first attempt.