With Manchester United’s miserable exit from the Europa League – following hot on the heels of Manchester City’s miserable exit from the Champions League – the 2019-20 English football season has come to an end.
It’s been the most extraordinary and exhausting campaign, lasting in excess of 12 months with plenty of dark moments amid the coronavirus pandemic when we wondered whether it’d ever be finished at all.
But as we slip into the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it break before the new season, here’s a look at some of the winners and losers of the one just passed.
Manchester United’s disappointing Europa League exit to Sevilla ended the English season
It came after Manchester City crashed out the Champions League to Lyon on Saturday night
Best touchline argument
In the post-Covid age of social distancing and boosted television microphones, there was a chance the expletive-heavy touchline exchange had been consigned to the past.
Apparently not as Chelsea boss Frank Lampard and Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp clashed over the apparently incongruous award of a free-kick against Mateo Kovacic. Until it led to a Liverpool goal.
Frank Lampard’s sweary touchline tirade at Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was a highlight
Footage emerged showing the extent of Lampard’s rant aimed at the Liverpool bench
‘How is that a foul? There’s no foul there,’ began Lampard, directing his words initially at Klopp’s assistant Pep Lijnders.
Klopp replied – and try not to say this in a Scouse accent: ‘Calm down, calm down… don’t talk to my No 2…’
Lampard: ‘No, no, if he’s going off at me, I’ll f****** say something.’
Unknown voice from the Liverpool dug-out: ‘It’s still a foul.’
Lampard: ‘It’s not a f****** foul! I’m not asking you, shut up.’
Lampard and Klopp square up on the touchline during July’s Premier League encounter
Lampard: ‘F*** off you as well! One title you’ve won and you’re f****** giving it the big ‘un. F*** off.’
You do love to see it.
Best Premier League goals
We’re going to single out two here.
Son Heung-min’s outrageous 90-yard solo goal in Tottenham’s game against Burnley saw the South Korean pick up the ball in his own half, sprint past six opponents at nearly Olympic athlete pace before calmly finishing.
That was the one to win the official Premier League goal of the season award though the true honour was Jose Mourinho christening him ‘Sonaldo Nazario’ in the aftermath.
Son Heung-min covered 90 yards to score one of the goals of the season against Burnley
Kevin De Bruyne’s kiss-the-crossbar volley against Newcastle was also a stand-out moment
But when it comes to that let’s watch this from all angles and set it to that contemporary dance track in Premier League Years, it has to be Kevin De Bruyne’s thunderbolt against Newcastle.
The purity of the connection is incredible and the finish is made all the sweeter by the kiss off the underside of the bar.
The ‘you’ve waited long enough’ award
This one is to be shared between Liverpool and Leeds United, who both enjoyed memorable campaigns to end agonising waits dating back far too long.
Liverpool won the top division title for the first time in 30 years with a breathtaking run of results that saw all manner of records tumbling.
Liverpool ended their agonising 30-year wait to win the league title in considerable style
And Leeds ended their 16 years outside the Premier League by winning the Championship in some style.
Both Jurgen Klopp and Marcelo Bielsa can probably expect to be awarded the freedom of the respective cities and the players will no doubt eventually get the classic open-top bus parade when it’s safe for people to stand next to each other in public again.
What do you mean Leeds already did one…
Leeds United’s players celebrate their return to the top-flight from the top of a bus
It’s tempting to just say David Luiz and be done with it. It isn’t a good look for any defender when a performance of composure and competence actually raises eyebrows.
But that’s what happened to the Brazilian as he helped keep Manchester City at bay during the FA Cup semi-final, a month after one of the Premier League’s worst-ever individual displays in the teams’ league meeting.
At the Etihad, Luiz gifted City a goal and was then sent off in a one-man catastrophe. This he’ll do every few games. But then the next week will put in a crucial shift to help his team gain three points.
See also: David de Gea.
David Luiz turned in one of the all-time worst Premier League performances against Man City
Biggest all-round shambles
It’s never great to see a proud and respectable club become a basketcase but Watford’s four-manager season takes some beating.
They started with Javi Gracia, who led them to the FA Cup final the year before, but he was fired on September 7 after taking just one point from their opening four matches.
Back came Quique Sanchez Flores for a second stint at Vicarage Road but he managed just the one league win during his three months and was sacked on December 1.
Nigel Pearson was sacked two games before the end of the season with Watford fourth bottom
It was only when Nigel Pearson arrived that fortunes started to pick up over the festive period and Watford actually looked capable of avoiding relegation.
And with two games of the season left, they were three points clear of relegation danger. That was when Pearson was inexplicably sacked by the club’s trigger-happy owners following a 3-1 loss at West Ham.
Everyone could see what was going to happen next and Watford duly returned to the Championship after losing to Arsenal on the final afternoon.
Most bonkers games
As ever, the Premier League threw up some crackers. The 3-3 draw between Sheffield United and a Manchester United side who looked frankly bewildered for most of it yet somehow got a point.
Norwich’s 3-2 win over Manchester City in mid-September that effectively wrapped up the title for Liverpool and Wolves’ thunderous comeback to beat City 3-2 just after Christmas.
Shell-shocked Manchester United players prior to their comeback against Sheffield United
Teemu Pukki scores as Norwich stun reigning champions Manchester City back in September
Jamie Vardy scored a hat-trick in Leicester’s extraordinary 9-0 win at Southampton in October
Have to mention Leicester’s nine-goal rampage at Southampton in October as well when the Foxes genuinely looked the most likely to challenge Liverpool.
The fact Southampton actually won 2-1 in the reverse game at Leicester in January illustrated how fortunes changed quite dramatically for both in the second half of the season.
The best pundit rant
Having spent three months arguing with the same four walls, there was always the potential for a Roy Keane spectacular once the Premier League season resumed in June.
And after allowing an eminently saveable shot from Tottenham’s Steven Bergwijn through his fingers in the very first game back, the entirety of Keane’s pent-up rage was hurled at David de Gea.
Roy Keane said he’s happily be swinging punches at David de Gea after a mistake at Tottenham
The Spanish keeper allowed Steven Bergwijn’s shot through his hands in the June fixture
‘I would be swinging punches at that guy. That is a standard save for an established international goalkeeper,’ he fumed.
‘I am sick to death of this goalkeeper. I would be fighting him at half-time. There is no getting away from that.’
You only had to look into Roy’s eyes to confirm there would indeed by Spanish blood on the dressing room floor if he was still wearing a Manchester United shirt.
‘Hang on, what…’
Referee Jon Moss went viral during the FA Cup semi-final between Arsenal and Manchester City after eagle-eyed TV viewers noticed he was wearing personalised boots with ‘Mossy’ on them.
While it was nice to see Moss, 49, wearing old school black boots made by much-forgotten brand Lotto, fans couldn’t believe he’d gone to the trouble of stitching his own nickname on the side.
Well fans often say referees like to be the centre of attention…
Referee Jon Moss sported some personalised boot in the FA Cup semi-final clash at Wembley
Sheffield United have not only punched above their weight on their Premier League return but they clearly have some talented lyricists in their squad as well.
Captain Billy Sharp came up with a brilliant song to welcome Norwegian midfielder Sander Berge to Bramall Lane in January and it was immediately adopted by their fans.
£22million Norwegian Berge was serenaded by the Blades fans with a song in his honour
Berge encourages the fan as they sing his new song to the tune of ‘She’s Electric’ by Oasis
To the tune of She’s Electric by Oasis: ‘He’s Norwegian/He plays for the Blades with John Egan/We’re playing in Europe next season/It’s Sander Berge.
‘He’s Norwegian/Norwood and Fleck are the reason/We’re playing in Europe next season/With Sander Berge.’
Let’s conveniently ignore the fact they ultimately finished ninth and missed out on the Europa League.
Fair enough, quite a few new arrivals to the Premier League need time to adjust and adapt. We’re forever hearing people talk about ‘the increased pace and physicality in England…’
But for Newcastle to pay a club record £40million for Joelinton and the Brazilian to score just two goals in a full season of 38 Premier League appearances just isn’t good enough.
Mind you, he did score against Rochdale and Oxford United in the FA Cup, so maybe there’s more to come.
Not far behind Joelinton has to be Tottenham’s £55m summer arrival Tanguy Ndombele though to be fair his confidence has been gradually shot to bits by Jose Mourinho’s sniping.
I’s fair to say that Newcastle’s £40m striker Joelinton hasn’t enjoyed the best debut season
Has to be Bruno Fernandes at Manchester United. A Cantona-esque impact on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s flagging team when he belatedly arrived in late January.
Probably saved Solskjaer’s job in the wake of that home loss to Burnley and inspired them to a run of 14 unbeaten in the Premier League thereafter.
United ultimately didn’t win a piece of silverware to crown it but Fernandes can’t do everything, can he?
The impact of Bruno Fernandes since January saved Man United from a disastrous season
Everyone’s biggest gripe
Yeah sorry, we’re going to have to talk about VAR. At some point over the course of the last year, every top-flight manager has had cause to vent about the unseen offside-checkers at Stockley Park.
While such checks are slowly becoming part of the game in England, there’s no doubt the interminable ‘checking… checking…’ waits while replays are watched and various lines are drawn on screen are joy-sapping for fans.
And those fractional calls where a player has strayed offside by an armpit hair or an overgrown fingernail, or are adjudged to have handballed following contact with their shoulder, have fans tearing their hair out.
The dreaded VAR check has sucked the joy and spontaneity out of Premier League matches
Fans wasted little time in expressing their distaste at the Video Assistant Referee technology
Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder verbalised what everyone has been thinking: ‘I don’t know where it is going and it is sucking the life out of me and the supporters.’
Players, too, as witnessed by Conor Coady of Wolves in December after Liverpool got the benefit of two VAR calls: ‘What is it, an armpit or a toe? Armpits again is it? Armpits are becoming quite the rage in the Premier League at the moment.’
Next season, the rules will determine that ‘the ‘arm’ stops at the bottom of the armpit.’ I’m sure that’ll clear everything right up.
Most pointless thing
Warming to the theme, those pitchside VAR monitors so referees can check contentious decisions for themselves. What’s the point of them if no referee actually bothers to use them?
FIFA actually had to remind officials of their existence back in October and still Michael Oliver was the only English referee to make use of it in the Crystal Palace vs Derby FA Cup tie.
Luka Milivojevic, whose yellow card was upgraded to a red as a result, will become some kind of trivia question at this rate.
Oh and water breaks post-lockdown when temperatures were struggling to break the 15C mark.
Michael Oliver uses his initiative to use the pitchside VAR monitor back in January
The ‘at least we gave it a go’ award
At least Norwich City were honest about their intentions. Returning to the Premier League at the end of last season, they decided to stick with the same core of players who’d won promotion, spending just £8m on transfer fees.
It was quite an impressive absence of ambition with the result that they dropped straight back down with little more than a whimper albeit with their finances looking rosier than most.
Fair enough, Norwich weren’t as bad as, say, Derby County in 2007-08, but at no point did they look like staying up either.
Mind you, as Covid impacts finances throughout football, perhaps Norwich will have the last laugh. Villa spent well over £100m last summer and survived by just one point.
Misery for Norwich as their relegation from the Premier League is confirmed with a whimper
Best quote to inspire confidence
After 11 months of sunshine on the Premier League uplands, gloom merchant Jose Mourinho returned to the stage in late November as Tottenham’s new manager.
His ‘humility’ act has long since worn thin but that didn’t stop him trying to push the reputational reset button at his unveiling press conference.
But perhaps the best line was this one: ‘I realised I made mistakes. I’m not going to make the same mistakes. I’ll make new mistakes – but not the same.’
That’s fine then.
Jose Mourinho admitted new mistakes would have to be made after joining Tottenham
The nice guys finish last award
Sometimes managers reach the point where there’s simply nothing else they can do for a club.
Having masterminded Bournemouth’s rise from League Two to five seasons in the Premier League against impossible odds, that’s exactly what happened to Eddie Howe.
One of the nicest blokes in football, Howe couldn’t possibly have done any more for the club and there’s only so long you can keep your ideas fresh and exciting.
Unfortunately, you can only punch above your weight for so long before gravity gets you and relegation was the result.
Eddie Howe left Bournemouth following their relegation from the Premier League last month