Well that was a weird season, wasn’t it? The Covid-19 Pandemic swept across the globe last spring, stopping almost all sporting activity in it’s tracks. The Premier League suspended play after Matchweek 29, the last ball kicked in anger an 85th minute strike from Harvey Barnes to complete Leicester City’s 4-0 thrashing of Aston Villa. Liverpool sat atop the table with a stunning 82 points out of a possible 87. Manchester City was a distant second with 57 points, leading a scrum of teams fighting for the top four spots around the 50 point mark, including the aforementioned Foxes, revitalized Man U and Chelsea squads, and pesky interlopers Wolves and Sheffield United. The season, and Liverpool’s first league championship in 30 years. was flung into Limbo.
Luckily for the sports starved quarantined masses, Europe had done enough to contain the spread of the virus that most leagues could finish their season in front of empty stands at least. Liverpool would come one point shy of the century mark but were never at risk of losing their crown. Meanwhile the race for the other Top Four spots and the struggle to stay out of the Bottom Three would come down to the last whistle. Let’s take a look at last years predictions and see how I did.
The Top Four, Reds all the Way
My Predictions (and the actual results.)
- Manchester City (Liverpool)
- Tottenham Hotspur (Manchester City)
- Liverpool (Chelsea)
- Leicester City (Manchester United.)
The biggest blow to Manchester City’s title defense hopes was during an otherwise mundane 4-0 flogging of Brighton Hove Albion in Matchweek Four. Center Back Aymeric Laporte was carted off the pitch in the 37th minute. Losing the lynchpin of his defense sent Pep Guardiola into a bit of a scramble, evidenced by their shocking 3-2 loss at newly promoted Norwich City. This was the first of NINE losses the Citizen suffered over the course of the campaign, getting doubled up by Wolves and losing both legs of the Manchester Derby. Despite underlying statistics (102 Goals scored, 35 Goals Allowed for a Goal Differential 15 scores higher than the Reds,) City simply looked mortal way too many times over the course of the campaign. As of this writing however they are playing excellent Champions League football, bouncing Real Madrid 4-2 on aggregate to get into the quarterfinals while Liverpool watches from home, keeping hope for some nice silverware alive.
Spurs had a wretched season even before Covid-19, sacking Mauricio Pochettino after Matchweek 12 saw the North London club with only 14 points, in 14th place, and bounced from the FA Cup by League 2 Colchester on penalties. How much could be laid at the feet of the Argentinian manager was immediately questioned by the fans and the press, especially when he was inexplicably replaced by Jose Mourinho, a mere eleven months after his sadly predictable firing from Manchester United. To the surprise of everyone Mourinho seemed to turn the squad around, securing a sixth place finish and Europa League Football next year and ensuring another year of Jose Mourinho jokes from yours truly.
Leicester City will be joining Spurs in Europe’s consolation prize tournament with a 5th place finish that has to feel disappointing to the Foxes fans. When the season was suspended Leicester City had just dispatched Aston Villa 4-0 at a King Power Stadium packed with fans enjoying their best start since their surprising title run in 2015/16. A rejuvenated Jamie Vardy led the league in scoring and would hold on for the Golden Boot with 23 goals. The sale of England’s top center back Harry Macguire to Manchester United netted a small fortune and his play on the field was more than adequately replaced by the emergence of 24 year old Turk and Çaglar Söyüncü. They looked ready to battle Man City for the #2 spot for the rest of the season.
Unfortunately the Foxes seemed to suffer the most from the suspension of play. They would only win two more games once the whistle blew in June, allowing a surging Chelsea squad to surge past them and watching Manchester United stalk them from eight points back in March to the last game of the season, when the Red Devils finally passed them in front of their own fans, 2-0. United and Chelsea would finish with 66 points, with the Blues in 4th on goal differential.
My Predictions (and the actual results)
- Norwich City (AFC Bournemouth)
- Aston Villa (Watford)
- Newcastle United (Norwich City)
The bottom three is always harder to predict. Norwich City did even worse than I had expected, winning merely five matches and becoming the first team relegated. Bigger teams are circling young star midfielder Todd Cantwell already and Finnish finisher Teemu Pukki is attracting attention was well. The road back will be rough for a squad that exceeded exceptions to get here in the first place.
Meanwhile Aston Villa, Bournemouth and Watford were scrambling for safety right up to the final whistle. The Villains entered the last month of the season winless since January, four points ts from safety and three teams to clamber over. But they were done losing. Egyptian wizard Trézéguet netted a brace in a 2-0 win over Crystal Palace. A 1-1 draw to Everton at Goodison Park was followed by a shocking 1-0 upset of Arsenal to keep Villa’s fate in their own hands going into the season finale against West Ham United.
Meanwhile Bournemouth were fighting just as hard over the last month, sandwiching a 4-1 upset of Leicester City July 12th with a 3-1 away shocker over Everton in the last week around back to back 2-0 losses to Manchester City and Southampton. Watford on the other hand would limp across the finish line to a dumpster fire of a season with three straight losses, ending the year desperately trying to overcome a three score deficit at Arsenal but falling short 3-2.
All this set the stage for Aston Villa’s homegrown talisman Jack Grealish to score in the 84’th minute to keep the Villains up for another season, despite the scare of Andriy Yarmolenko‘s goal a minute later, the solitary point was all they needed.
The relegations end five year runs in the top flight for the Cherries and Hornets after bother were promoted for the 2015/16 season. Bournemouth manager and club institution Eddie Howe paid the price, ending his 25 year relationship with the club. Continuity won’t be a problem as his longtime lieutenant Jason Tindall was tabbed as successor. Watford on the other hand burned through FIVE managers this season, Javi Gracia (until 7 September) Quique Sánchez Flores (from 8 September to 1 December) Nigel Pearson (from 6 December to 19 July) Hayden Mullins (interim, from 19 July.) The search for a permanent replacement is still ongoing and the new skipper will have to take over a locker room that has a pretty good case that the players were not to blame for this fiasco.
And we can’t wrap up without discussing my big miss. Newcastle United finished in 13th with 44 points. With an ownership group in shambles and a journeyman manager in Steve Bruce, they were a popular relegation pick. But the Magpies played scrappy and fun football most of the year, overcoming a shaky start to bank a passel of points after New Years, as well as reaching the FA Cup quarterfinals. The fans at St. James’ Park are still craving stability stability in the front office after a possible sale of the team to a Saudi led group collapsed recently. But still, it was a nice recovery for one of world football’s most storied franchises.
The Premier League will kick off the 20/21 season on September 12th, which is fast approaching. The dark cloud of Covid-19 will still hang over the proceedings, evident in empty stadiums with piped in fan noise and financial struggles affecting even the big spenders. We’ll be back in the coming weeks to say hello to the newly promoted squads, check out the long awaited finales of the Europa and Champions leagues and make our bold and likely wrong predictions before we start all over again.
On a personal note, 2020 has been a crummy year for everybody, myself no exception. While my family has been lucky and privileged to avoid the direct effects of the novel coronavirus. The mental and social strain of quarantine followed by tentative steps to reopen, combined with an unsettled political situation here in the US can make it hard to enjoy something as frivolous as a soccer game a world away. But I hope by bringing a little insight and and humor into our lives each week relieves our burdens for a bit and helps us save e our strength for the important work ahead. I hope all y’all stay safe and healthy. See you here again soon.
“From our Haus to Yours”