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New-look Premier League is stronger than ever

The 2016–17 Premier League season was full of excitement and stories to tell future grandchildren, and with the ever stronger bank balances, the new-look Premier League is stronger than ever.

Some would argue that Chelsea won the title in October when they started their 13-match winning streak, but Tottenham kept the Blues on their toes up until match week 36. The race for Champions League qualification was tighter than ever, and unexpected upsets disrupted the journeys of many clubs.

Perhaps it’s my personal blue-tinted bias—I repress the memories of Chelsea finishing 10th—but this season has been one of the most exciting, and better than last year.

Leicester City’s Cinderella story to their title will live as one of the greatest Premier League moments, but the recent iteration of top flight English football clenched the buttocks of fans rooting for many different clubs.

Chelsea broke the record for most wins in a season (30). Tottenham was undefeated at home in their final season at White Hart Lane. Manchester United secured a double-winning season, conquering the EFL Cup and Europa League. The top seven teams this year improved their points total from last year.

The improvement of the Premier League was not sheer luck. Many changes were made leading up to the season, and the future is bright as the quality of the product continues to improve. Clubs will look to imitate the steps the top teams made to rise further up the table.

New kids on the block

Premier League teams ruthlessly used the transfer windows to bolster their squads. Manchester United signed Zlatan Ibrahimović, brought in 2015–16 Bundesliga player of the year Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and negotiated the most expensive transfer in history to bring Paul Pogba home to Old Trafford.

Chelsea signed one of Leicester City’s keys to their championship season in N’Golo Kanté. Manchester City added Ilkay Gündogan, Leroy Sané, and Gabriel Jesus to their squad, while Liverpool added 13 goals from Sadio Mané.

This season also marked the emergence of players like Heung-Min Son alongside Dele Alli and Golden Boot winner Harry Kane. Romelu Lukaku scored 40 per cent of Everton’s goals by putting 25 into the back of the net, seven more than last year. Even more names across the Premier League could be added to the list of difference makers.

The point is that the quality of players in the Premier League has increased, and it’s shown through the product that each club presents. The top teams have scored more goals, and allowed fewer this season.

The Premier League has turned into an arms race—whoever builds the best squad in the fastest time will win the trophy. Manchester United spent €185 million in transfer fees for Pogba, Mkhitaryan, and Eric Bailly, but finished in sixth place, a spot lower than last year. Yet, the Red Devils lost five less matches this year, and qualified for the Champions League when they beat Ajax in the Europa League final.

Arsenal actually earned three more wins and four more points than last season, but they dropped from a second-place finish to fifth and without a berth in the Champions League. They improved as a club, but did not improve as fast as the other top teams around them. Their lack of progress has many fans crying “Wenger out!” as they want a fresh change from stubborn and outdated tactics.

The upcoming transfer window in July has already started many rumours, as the clubs try to hold their spots and move up the table. Leagues from around the world will be ransacked by Premier League teams as they convince the best of the best to play in England.

Football Manager 2017 in real life

Some of the best managers from around the world took over Premier League teams after a turbulent 2015–16 season for many clubs. Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola coached their first seasons in England, Jürgen Klopp experienced his first full campaign with Liverpool, and José Mourinho and Ronald Koeman joined new teams near the top of the table.

The strong personalities in each manager created a buzz leading into the pre-season. Each coach brought a fresh look to the squads fighting for the title, and competition looked to be fiercer than ever.

Guardiola played his cards first as Manchester City started the season with six wins in a row, scoring 12 goals in the process. The former Barcelona and Bayern manager instilled his possession-heavy philosophy in the squad, and City became early title favourites.

Conte struggled in the beginning of the season, and after losses to Liverpool and Arsenal, the former Juventus manager was forced to change tactics. A back-three defence was implemented with efficiency from the three attackers leading the shape. This change started a 13-game winning streak and forged the path to this year’s Premier League title, and initiated a trend that many clubs tried to replicate.

One of the clubs that further developed the trend was Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham. His version of the 3-4-3 formation led to a league-low of four losses and an undefeated home campaign. Many clubs tried to use the formation to match Chelsea and Tottenham, but many squads did not have the right personnel to execute these new strategies.

The new managers, along with some older ones, brought a fresh look to English football. Three-at-the-back was usually played only in Italy, and England’s national team tried to use the formation in a friendly against Germany after club successes with it. The managers implemented their own ideas like a video game, starting the dawn of a new era in the Premier League.

Fluke or dynasty in the making?

Premier League clubs saw an increase in revenue thanks to the £5.14 billion television rights deal that kicked in this season. At the top of the table, Chelsea earned £153.2 million, and many clubs are near that number.

Owners will have a war chest of funds ready to splash in the transfer market as teams fight for the best players. Manchester United are already rumoured to be close to signing Antoine Griezmann, but the other top clubs will continue to put up a fight until the ink has dried on the contract.

The rest of the clubs earned lots of money through the TV rights deal, and they will also look to strengthen their squads to continue upsetting the top teams throughout the season. Although a shot at the Premier League title is farfetched for certain clubs, they should be taken seriously, especially in the transfer market.

There used to be a “big four” in the Premier League: Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, and Chelsea. Tottenham, Manchester City, and Everton should be added to that list, creating a “big seven.” This is unlike the NBA, where the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors are expected from the start of the season to make it to the finals.

Any club can win it next year, and the competition between the top teams will create the most exciting atmosphere in Europe. It’s hard to imagine, but this season will somehow be topped by next year’s Premier League race.

About Jonathan Cheng

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4 comments

  1. This season has been completely rubbish! It always is when one team runs away with it. Of course, Chelsea’s cause was made much, much easier by having no European football and next season will see them come up short. Conte may have accidentally fallen over a system which worked and won them the league but now he will have to come up with one which allows them to play two games per week, something they have not been used to recently. So roll on next season and lets have a level playing field, then we’ll see how fortunate Chelsea were this season.

    • Jonathan Cheng

      I won’t try to hide the fact that it’s easy for me to see this as a great season; it’s easy to see positives when sitting on top. I just wanted to highlight that many other clubs did well this year, and I found the race for Champions League qualification to be exciting. Improvements happened all around, and the top teams pushed each other to the limit up until the end of the season.

      Chelsea had it a lot easier by being able to focus only on the league, and you can see that in the stats when Conte chose the exact same lineup 13 times. Rotation will be important with more matches per week, signalling the importance of the summer transfer window where everyone will look to make a big splash.

      Of course, it’ll be a totally new challenge for Chelsea and the rest of the league. I’m looking forward to a competitive season on, as you say, a level playing field. Things are looking up for the Premier League as a whole, and I certainly don’t think Chelsea will run away with the title next year.

      • I agree, but of the top six teams only Chelsea, (assuming that they beat Arsenal in the cup final, which they will), and Manchester United have picked up any silverware. This again doesn’t amount to a particularly exciting season for anybody else. The race for the top four actually quite quickly became the race to see who would finish second, third and fourth. There is hardly anything exciting about that. Who remembers, apart from the participants, who picked up the silver amd bronze medals at the Olympics? Nobody.

        • Jonathan Cheng

          You make good points about nobody remembering the runner ups and the ones who end the season without trophies. I’m excited by the progress clubs made this year, and I hope it continues to trend upward, even though one season is a small sample size.

          Too often I’ve heard that English football is declining, and other leagues in Europe are better than the Premier League because of the lack of Champions League success by England in recent years. With the teams already pushing each other to be better than ever, I hope the progress translates into European success, and the return of English teams not being taken lightly by others.

          That, in particular, is what I’m excited about, which is why I was excited about this year. I guess I’m trying to envision great things happening as a result of this season, what I want to believe as the dawn of a new era.

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