Premier League: 5 Things We Learned From This Season
The 2016-17 Premier League season has now concluded and while the title race wasn't as thrilling as Leicester City’s cinderella story from a year ago, there were still several enthralling storylines that played out over the course of the season.
Let’s take a look at five of the most interesting things that we learned after this campaign.
Leicester City’s Cinderella Story Is Over
Leicester City pulled off one of the greatest upsets in the history of the EPL when they won the league last season, but it appears that the Foxes' title contention was a one-year story.
This season, Leicester shockingly fired Claudio Ranieri in February after a dreadful start to the season saw them in a heated relegation battle. They improved under new manager Craig Shakespeare and managed to finish in 12th place, but the core of their team greatly underachieved throughout most of the 2016-17 campaign.
Wes Morgan, Jamie Vardy, Ngolo Kante and Riyad Mahrez all made the Premier League team of the year last season, but Kante left for Chelsea (leaving a gaping hole in the Foxes' defensive midfield), while Vardy, Morgan and Mahrez all underperformed.
For reference, WhoScored.com has an all-encompassing rating system for players in the EPL. Out of 284 qualified players this season, Mahrez ranked 111th after finishing in first place last season. Vardy was 144th this year (9th place last season), and Morgan ranked 201st (70th last season). Without their stars performing like stars, at least for the majority of the campaign, Leicester couldn't finish in the top half of the table, coming in 12th.
Chelsea’s 2015-16 Season Was a Fluke
Chelsea finished the 2015-16 season in a very disappointing 10th place, but the Blues bounced back this year by winning their second title in the last three years.
Chelsea were one of the best offensive teams in the EPL this season as they were second in the league in goals scored, first in dribbles completed and third in the league in passing accuracy.
One of the main reasons for Chelsea’s resurgence was the return to form of Eden Hazard. Hazard had a good-but-not-great season last year (7.11 WhoScored rating), but this year he had the best WhoScored rating in the entire league at 7.81. Hazard was top five in the league in key passes per game, dribbles completed per game and fouls drawn per game on his way to tallying 16 goals and 5 assists.
Hazard’s success was instrumental in Chelsea’s title victory, and you could certainly argue that he was the best player in the league this season, even though teammate N'Golo Kante was named PFA Player of the Year.
A Top-Four Spot Isn't Automatic for Arsene Wenger
Arsenal finished outside of the top four -- thus missing out on a Champions League spot -- for the first time under Arsene Wenger. The Frenchman is a club legend, having won three league titles and seven F.A. Cup titles in his tenure. However, the club has only finished above third twice since the undefeated season in 2003-04, and they have not won a league title since that season.
In addition, Arsenal has not gotten beyond the round of 16 in UEFA Champions League since the 2009-10 season, and they will not even be participating in the competition this year.
Their disappointing 2016-17 campaign wasn't quite as straightforward as it sounds -- their 75 points were 4 more than they totaled in 2015-16, when they finished second in the league -- but for a club of Arsenal's caliber, it wouldn't be unreasonable to think they might be ready to move on from Wenger. Instead, they recently gave him a two-year contract extension.
This season was a pretty contentious one, and things won't be any easier next year unless the Gunners are challenging for Premier League title.
Tottenham Are Legitimate Title Contenders
Prior to the 2015-16 season, Tottenham had not finished in the top three since the 1989-90 campaign, but they have now finished third or better in consecutive seasons. Not only that, but Tottenham has actually had the best defense in the league each of the past two years (in terms of least goals allowed), and they have led the league in goal differential in both of these seasons. In fact, if you combined the league tables from the past two seasons, Tottenham would be in first place.
They've been the Premier League's best team over the past 24 months.
It's yet to be seen what Spurs will do in the summer transfer window, but if they are able to add a quality attacking player or two (in addition to retaining their fantastic young core), they will be one of the favorites to win the league next season.
Manchester United Still Miss Fergie
Sir Alex Ferguson went out with a bang when he retired after Manchester United’s 2012-13 title-winning season, but the club has not finished above fourth place in the four seasons since his departure. It's been a lack of goals that has done in the Red Devils, and this year was no exception.
This season United brought in Jose Mourinho as manager, and the club was able to win both the League Cup and Europa League. However, United still struggled mightily in the league, finishing a whopping 24 points behind Chelsea.
Last summer Mourinho spent major money to bring in Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Eric Bailly, and United will likely be major spenders once again this summer. However, spending alone does not win titles, and it is yet to be seen whether or not Manchester United can get back to their old winning ways that they enjoyed under the management of Ferguson.