Ben Smith chronicles the trials and tribulations of all 20 teams that made up the Premier League season of 2018/2019, rating each team’s campaign out of 10.
In this edition, he focuses on Leicester, Liverpool, Man United, Man City, and Newcastle.
Leicester have had a good season in what was a tragic and emotional year for everyone at the club.
They overcame the dreadful helicopter crash that took the life of their owner and there seems to be an amazing strength and unity among the players at the club.
On the field, Claude Puel had to go, the football was boring and the fans never took to him at all. I don’t agree with Brendan Rodgers leaving mid-season, I think he should have seen out the year with Celtic.
That said, I am sure he felt he had achieved everything he could up North.
The Scottish League is poor and he needed a fresh challenge.
He has the buzz back at Leicester and they have some very exciting young players like James Maddison and Demarai Gray.
It is also very refreshing to see Jamie Vardy’s loyalty to Leicester.
Mahrez has spent the season sitting on the bench and Danny Drinkwater has spent the season sitting in the pub, it just goes to show that the grass is not always greener on the other side.
Make no mistake, the King Power will be a very difficult place for anyone to visit next season.
Brendan Rodgers is an excellent manager and Leicester have plenty to look forward to for next year.
Liverpool fans must be wondering whether they will ever get to taste Premier League success.
They were superb this season.
They only lost ONCE all year.
The scary thing for Liverpool and for the other challengers is that we are now in a new era in the Premier League. As long as Pep is in Manchester I believe you are going to need to earn 100 points to be sure of the title.
There is no room for error anymore. Just to put it into context – United won the league in ’99 with 79 points.
Arsenal went the entire season unbeaten in 03/04 and finished with 90 points.
This year, Liverpool got 97 points and it still wasn’t enough.
Often times when a team finishes as runners up it is easy to pinpoint where the league was lost. This year it is not so easy.
The league game at the Etihad in early January was obviously the turning point but Liverpool played very well on the night and couldn’t have done much more.
I think the games that will probably hurt Klopp the most will be during a busy period in late January/early February in which they drew four games out of six (Leicester, West Ham, Everton, Man Utd).
This gave Man City a window of opportunity that they never once relinquished. They won the last 14 games in a row and sometimes you just have to take your hat off.
The encouraging aspect for supporters is that Klopp continues to improve Liverpool year after year. For the last few seasons they have been in that tussle for the Champions League places.
This year they have left the likes of Spurs and Chelsea behind and become serious contenders until the very end.
The challenge now will be to sustain those levels of performances next season. Liverpool have historically failed to kick on after finishing as runners up in the league.
After their title push of 08/09 with Rafa Benitez they finished 7th the following year. After their push in 13/14 with Brendan Rodgers they finished 6th.
It is never easy to regroup and reach those same levels again but this squad has more talent and depth than squads of old and for that reason I think they will bounce back again next year.
The final day of the season was heartbreaking for Liverpool as they fell just one point short of title glory. They do however have the chance for redemption in the Champions League final after their heroic comeback against Barcelona.
They have the best centre back in the world at the moment, a fantastic manager and a board that are willing to spend. They are surely not too far away from getting that elusive first Premier League.
MANCHESTER CITY (1ST)
There is no other word to describe them.
Back to back titles haven’t been done since United had that incredible team in the late noughties.
They are also favourites to win the domestic treble for the first time ever when they play Watford in the FA Cup Final next week.
At Christmas the league looked sewn up. Liverpool came into the game against Man City ten points clear of their rivals. Man City won the game narrowly and from then on they have been ruthless.
They kept their nerve at crunch time and beat Spurs and Man Utd in the space of four days. I think Man City going out of the Champions League was the nail in the coffin for Liverpool’s hopes.
There was no way Pep was ever going to let the two biggest prizes in club football slip through his grasps.
Bernardo Silva and Aymeric Laporte have really stepped up and made the difference this season and Raheem Sterling has developed into a world class footballer.
The only depressing thing about this team is that it is hard to see who is going to break their dominance.
Liverpool’s proximity to City throughout the campaign will have only loosened the purse strings at the Etihad, as will their exit to Spurs in the Champions League.
Last summer was remarkably quiet by their standards with only Riyad Mahrez joining up. You can guarantee that several multi-million pound stars will be coming through the doors this summer.
God help the rest of the league.
MANCHESTER UNITED (6TH)
This will be tough reading for any United fans, particularly after a season of watching your two fiercest rivals winning week in, week out. United are in crisis.
At this moment in time I think they are in the most trouble of any of the teams in the top six.
They have an ageing squad that is rotten to the core with unbelievably average players earning ridiculous amounts of money.
Alexis Sanchez is taking half a million pounds a week from the club and has barely kicked a ball out of his way. Anthony Martial just signed a new deal worth £240,000 per week. For what?
Whenever this subject comes up I hear Man United fans argue that the club is so big and the brand is so profitable that they can pay any amount of money they want.
This is true.
They are one of the most valuable sports teams in the world. They can pay the biggest wages. This doesn’t mean that you have to do it. United currently have 13 first team players earning between £100k-500k per week.
The problem that this creates is that bang average players are consistently rewarded despite not displaying form near good enough to merit that wage.
Take Martial for example, a player with bags of ability but a questionable attitude, once he is given 240k a week it filters down through the squad immediately.
The next thing that happens is that players like Lingard, Rashford, Herrera are knocking on the door looking for a big increase.
The board are afraid to cause more disharmony and anger among the squad so they often agree. Now you have most of the squad earning huge salaries and they become unable to sell.
What team is going to pay the likes of Jesse Lingard six figures per week to play for them?
The best clubs work with a proper pay scale in place. The best performers earn the most money. The younger players have to ply their trade and earn their way to a big contract.
That’s the way it was with Fergie.
That’s even the way it is at Man City. You don’t see Phil Foden earning the same money as David Silva, he has to show he deserves it.
The new Man United have abandoned that policy and it is a huge mistake. Ole has spoken about the bad apples already in interviews, the trouble now is trying to get them out the door.
He has a big summer ahead. Loads of those players have to be moved on.
Man United need to get back to basics and the principles that made them so good in the first place.
Anyone who is not putting a shift in should be sold, and that includes players like Paul Pogba who think they are bigger than the club.
Rafa is magic.
There are very, very few managers in world football that could have achieved the results that he has achieved this season.
Let’s be frank, the squad is brutal.
There are no stars in this team, the vast majority of them are bang average.
Lascelles, Rondon and Perez can show quality on their day and Sean Longstaff is a young player with big potential but overall it is not a squad that would stoke confidence in any fan base before the start of a season.
They had a dire August and September and I’m sure some Geordies feared the worst. Rafa never panics though and they soon started picking up results and moving in the right direction again.
They finished the season really strongly and fans will be hopeful they can carry those kind of performances into next season.
They are a club that is crying out for investment.
Three or four new faces could really drive Newcastle into the Top 10 and maybe further next season but it all depends on Mike Ashley and whether he has any interest in opening his chequebook.
Rafa Benitez is going to be a wanted man and will soon grow tired of trying to operate on a shoestring budget. Crucial summer ahead for the Magpies.