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English Premier League season in review

Chelsea are on fire. (Darren Walsh/Chelsea via AP Images)
Roar Guru
22nd May, 2017
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1232 Reads

It was billed as the greatest collection of managers to have ever been assembled in Premier League history. Household names like Tony Pulis, Alan Pardew and Mark Hughes were joined by the foreign legion.

Some, like Antonio Conte, Walter Mazzarri and Pep Guardiola, were trying their hand in England for the first time.

Others, like Jose Mourinho, were the proverbial prodigal sons, returning to the fold and renewing bitter rivalries with foreign contemporaries.

The incumbents – Mauricio Pochettino, Jurgen Klopp and Claudio Ranieri – were looking to build on successful beginnings.

The cash continued to flow. On the back of a bumper TV deal, transfer spending again reached epic levels and wage bills for even the smaller clubs dwarfed most of their European counterparts.

But, as always, the on-field action was frantic and exhilarating. There were no easy games, as lower ranked teams frequently took it up to their more fancied and cashed-up opponents.

There were new tactics on show as the foreign legion sought to implement their trade and put a stamp on the EPL. We had false nines and full backs playing as defensive midfielders as the 4-4-2 was well and truly abandoned for the sexy-again 3-5-2 or 3-4-2-1.

The season ultimately belonged to Chelsea. They led from start to finish and, barring a late Tottenham surge, were never really headed in their quest for first place.

Here is a look at the 2016-17 English Premier League season.

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Player of the season: Eden Hazard
After an indifferent 2015-16, the former PFA player of the year recaptured his best form, scoring 15 goals and providing five assists.

He was brilliant on the ball, with his trademark acceleration leaving defenders in his wake. In concert with Diego Costa and Pedro, He was part of a lethal counter-attacking trio that caused headaches for defences around the league.

Honourable mentions go his colleagues David Luiz and Ngolo Kante, who were outstanding in defence and midfield respectively.

Elsewhere, Kevin De Bruyne was consistently brilliant, leading the league in assists, while Alexis Sanchez continued to excite us with his control, acceleration and goal-scoring prowess.

Chelsea EPL

Darren Walsh/Chelsea via AP Images

Manager of the season: Antonio Conte
Was there anybody else? Conte took a side that clearly underachieved, coming tenth last season, and brought them to the title with two games to spare, all in his first season of coaching in England.

He did this without breaking the bank. He made key acquisitions in Luiz and Kante, but he understood that the key was getting underperforming players, like Hazard and Costa, to regain their best form.

His successful implementation of the 3-4-2-1 system was the catalyst for a run of results that earned the title.

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A special mention should go Mauricio Pocchetino, who took Tottenham to second. Showing greater tactical flexibility and instilling more confidence, Spurs made a late surge to challenge Chelsea. Unlike last season, they never took the foot off the pedal, even after second place was secured.

They were undefeated at home and achieved a record points total in the Premier League era.

Most improved team: Chelsea
Chelsea clearly underachieved last season, but going from tenth to first is quite an achievement by any team, especially in such a competitive league.

The fall from grace: Leicester City
If Chelsea underachieved last season, then Leicester were the epitome of over-achievement.

A dismal first half of the campaign led to the sad but ultimately correct decision to sack Claudio Ranieri. His deputy, Craig Shakespeare, did an excellent job of ensuring safety by winning his first five games in charge.

They also made an impressive run to the Champions League quarter-finals.

Leicester City English Premier League trophy 2016

AP Photo/Matt Dunham

The underachiever: Stoke City
This was a close call between Manchester United and Crystal Palace.

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Stoke have the talent, attacking flair and quality that most mid-table sides lack. Yet their inconsistency was a tipster’s nightmare; their penchant for conceding goals even worse.

Mark Hughes and Stoke have escaped scrutiny with a safe mid-table finish, but more should be expected of this outfit.

The overachiever: West Brom Albion
Tony Pulis took a mediocre squad to a top-ten finish. Where survival was the goal, West Brom achieved one of their highest ever finishes. They were supremely organised and always difficult to score against.

Pulis has long been derided for his negative game style, but this is just the media beating up on an easy target. On a small budget, what he has achieved at the Hawthorns is nothing short of remarkable.

The team at the crossroads: Arsenal
After another season of discontent and internal conflict at the Emirates, Arsene Wenger’s future hangs in the balance. The fans and the club itself don’t seem to be able to move on until this is resolved.

Without Champions League football for the first time in 19 seasons, this off season presents a crossroads for the club.

Despite a treasure chest of funds, the wage cap prevents them from retaining their best talent. Sell Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil and the wheels could come off. Keep them and, despite the risk of losing them for nothing, the Gunners would send a signal they are keen to keep fighting for the top.

This is the most crucial off-season at Arsenal in a long time.

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The bell tolls for: Sunderland
Woeful from start to finish, their biggest turning point was losing Sam Allardyce on the eve of the season.

With ‘Big Sam’ orchestrating another great relegation escape last season, Sunderland were set to build upon that platform, but losing him threw that plan out the window.

David Moyes seemed a decent choice but nothing went right in a season that never got going.

Manchester United coach David Moyes. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

Best tactical move: Chelsea and Tottenham switch to three at the back
The foreign legion brought their expertise to the league and they weren’t afraid to flex their tactical muscle. 4-4-2 seems a thing of the past, as sides went to a 4-2-3-1 or 3-5-2.

Spurs showed their flexibility, switching between 3-5-2 in attack and 4-2-3-1 in defence, while Chelsea’s change to a 3-4-2-1 was season defining.

Guardiola was the most left-field tactician, using full backs in central roles among other tweaks. The Special One did what he does best at Manchester United – negate and then attack.

Too little too late: Arsenal switch to 3-4-3
It is hard to know whether he was auditioning for next season or just following the rest of his colleagues, but even Wenger got on the ‘three at the back’ bandwagon.

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It yielded some decent results, providing more defensive stability at the expense of attacking flair. But too little too late, as their customary late charge towards a top-four place fell agonisingly short.

The boy from oz
This was a tough season for Aussie players in the EPL. Brad Smith was expected to shine for AFC Bournemouth, but was used only off the bench, while Adam Federici was the reserve keeper at Bournemouth but failed to see much action.

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The best 12th man: Willian
He was Chelsea’s best player and one of the best midfielders in the EPL during their dismal 2015-16 campaign, but this year he was used mainly off the bench.

Every team needs their role players and Willian and Cesc Fabregas deserve praise for their unassuming efforts throughout the season. They would be starting midfielders at any other club.

The one who almost got away: Son Heung-Min
The 24-year-old South Korean player was mighty close to leaving Spurs in the off-season. After enduring a difficult first season and seemingly not in the gaffer’s plans, he and the club felt it may be wise to sell him back to Europe. Fortunately for him and Spurs, Pocchetino chose not to sell.

Son led the line in Harry Kane’s absence and played left wing during the other times, with 14 goals and six assists proving an excellent return in only his second season in the Premier League.

His work down the flank and ability to cut inside caused problems all season. He still has a bit of work to do to become the finished product, but he is now a crucial cog in the Tottenham machine.

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And the Oscar goes to…
Oscar.

Diving was an issue, but not as prominent a problem as made out to be. Diego Costa gets a mention but he does gets fouled frequently.

Oscar, meanwhile, chose not to play the team role at Chelsea, before taking the cash offered by the Chinese Super League. Weak in my opinion, but when you can make a squillion dollars plying your trade and being treated like a superstar in a country of a billion people, I’m sure he isn’t complaining.

The great escape: Crystal Palace
Mired in the relegation zone, Palace sacked Alan Pardew and appointed specialist survival consultant Sam Allardyce. And Big Sam did not disappoint. Instilling defensive shape and discipline to a decent squad was the first step and once he achieved that, Palace went on a giant-killing run to ensure Premier League survival.

What a waste of money: Paul Pogba
£90 million. Four goals and three assists. Enough said.

Paul Pogba wearing the Manchester United 6 shirt

Supplied

The crown jewel: David Silva
David Silva receives the crown jewel for being the most majestic player in the Premier League.

I could watch Silva play all day. Every swivel, turn and touch of the football is a thing of beauty. His vision, link-up play and passing abilities are truly sumptuous.

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The lethal weapon: Harry Kane
Harry Kane followed up his breakout 2016-17 season with another prolific campaign, confirming his status as one of Europe’s best strikers.

He has all the attributes of a great forward – he leads the line well, holds the ball up, links up brilliantly with midfield, scores with his feet and head, and is able to create goals for himself.

Ending the season with a flourish, he topped the goal scoring table with 29 goals in 30 appearances.