CHRIS HATHERALL: How wily Conte’s Blues were head and shoulders ahead of the rest

Chris Hatherall ranks the clubs ahead of the final day of the Premier League season.

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte is thrown in the air during post-match celebrations after the win over Watford.

Chelsea

The arrival of Antonio Conte transformed an underperforming team and it has been fascinating to watch how he used tactics and man management to bring the best out of his players. Chelsea are deserved champions with strong performances all the way through from Thibaut Courtois, to N’Golo Kante and through Eden Hazard to Diego Costa.

Tottenham

Another ‘nearly’ season but there’s no doubt Spurs are a club on the up with a very talented manager at the helm. The probably played the best football in the league but just lacked the experience to go one step further. The only question is whether they have just missed their biggest opportunity. Next season, at Wembley, may be tough.

Man City

Pep Guardiola’s first season in England has been way more difficult than he could have imagined. It took a long time to understand the Premier League and some question whether he has fully grasped the style and systems. But City’s style of football remains hugely entertaining — if they can sort problems at the back and find a new goalkeeper, then next season could be far better. This year, you have to say, was something of a practice run.

Liverpool

Jurgen Klopp arrived with a massive fanfare but he understood enough about English football to realise his revolution would need to be a quiet one. Liverpool are improving year on year but the pace of that improvement may not be as fast as some would hope. If they can finish the job and take fourth place on the final day of the season, then this campaign will appear positive; if they mess it up, as they have done at Anfield on many occasions recently, it will be harder to assess. There’s a lot of work to do before a title challenge.

Arsenal

Where do you start with the Gunners? Another season of frustration and in-fighting on the terraces over Arsene Wenger’s future — but another FA Cup final and still a chance to finish in the top four. Glass half full? Glass half empty? Take your pick. But everyone would agree there needs to be a serious overhaul this summer if Arsenal want to achieve what they are capable of.

Man United

What a strange season at Old Trafford. Fans seem to have taken to Jose Mourinho and he has guided them to a League Cup victory, a Europa League Final and a long unbeaten (but ultimately fruitless) run in the Premier League. Only problem is that it was built on a 35-year-old injured striker who may not be around next season and on a style of safety first football which took the joy out of watching one of the most glamorous clubs in world football. Next year has to be better (it has to be, because history tells you Mourinho is normally gone after three seasons).

Everton

Definite improvement at Goodison under Ronald Koeman, not just in terms of performance but in terms of ambition, too. Everton were inconsistent, which means they weren’t quite good enough to challenge the big boys, but there are good signs for the future from the club’s young players and from their manager — if they can hold on to key players like Lukaku and Barkley. That’s a big ‘if’ by the way…

Southampton

Reaching a cup final (and the Saints should have beaten Man United at Wembley) was a big moment for Southampton and they have never looked in danger of flirting with relegation. But there are question marks over the entertainment value being provided by underwhelming manager Claude Puel. Lots of passing, lots of energy, not a lot of goals just about sums it up — and on a bad day when the passing isn’t working, it can get pretty dull. A steady first season but Puel is yet to win hearts and minds on England’s south coast.

West Brom

Now, here’s a conundrum. Breaking into the top eight is a big thing for West Brom who have also produced some excellent results. But let’s be honest, it hasn’t been a joy watching them do it. Tony Pulis has won over Baggies fans thanks to results, attitude, and consistent performances and deserves praise. Let’s leave it at that.

Bournemouth

The polar opposite to West Brom — Eddie Howe has his Cherries playing entertaining football every week and just backs them to win enough games to stay up. The fact it has worked, despite a leaky defence and one of the smallest budgets in the Premier League, is a minor miracle. Howe should be on the Manager of the Year list for what he has achieved.

Leicester

If last season’s title win was unpredictable, this year’s campaign has been almost as mad. Leicester looked like becoming the first champions ever to be relegated after a horrendous start in which it looked like either their players were still at the party or they had fallen out of love with manager Claudio Ranieri. Whichever it was, Raneiri got the sack and the Foxes returned to ‘normal’ under Craig Shakespeare. Under the circumstances, a mid-table finish is pretty impressive.

West Ham

Not a season that West Ham fans will remember with much fondness. Problems settling into the London Stadium, together with the departure of Diego Payet, left them struggling against relegation. The one bright light has been Manuel Lanzini who has the potential to replace Payet in the hearts of Hammers fans.

Crystal Palace

Absolutely woeful at the start under Alan Pardew, who paid the price for trying to make them more expansive, but compelling at the end as Sam Allardyce took his team back to basics and reinvigorated the Selhurst Park crowd, which remains one of the noisiest in the Premier League. They deserved to stay up, took some big scalps (including Chelsea at Stamford Bridge) and had one of the season’s star men in Wilfried Zaha.

Stoke

A pretty miserable season for Stoke given the money spent to try and push them up the table. Mark Hughes had won plaudits for rescuing the club from its image as long-ball, set-piece merchants, but this season the Potters lost pretty much all their identity and descended into mediocrity. Next season could prove to be a difficult one.

Burnley

Only one victory on the road all season, but pre-season relegation favourites Burnley still stayed up thanks to a team ethic and organisation instilled by talented manager Shaun Dyche (and to some excellent home form). Burnley are hardly a team of stars but that is also the key to their success. Goodness knows how they’ll be able to keep it up next year, but avoiding the drop was an impressive achievement.

Watford

Manager Walter Mazzarri’s biggest mistake was leading his team to Premier League safety a little too soon. They were excellent at times in the first half of the season, even threatening to break into the top eight. But a poor finish to the campaign since achieving safety has led to Mazzarri receiving his P45 at the end of the season. Ridiculously, really.

Swansea

Things were looking pretty bleak for the Swans when the bizarre appointment of American coach Bob Bradley turned sour; but his replacement Paul Clement has turned things around. Clement has the team playing the kind of attractive football they are renowned for, built around the talents of Gylfi Sigurdsson and the goals of Fernando Lorente. Staying up was a massive moment for the Swans.

Hull

You always thought Hull would be heading back to the Championship but at times they challenged that perception. A good start, for instance, saw them up the top of the table early on — and then, when Marco Silva replaced Mike Phelan, a series of home wins gave them hope. Ultimately, though, it wasn’t enough. They could be back quickly, though, if they can persuade Silva to stay.

Middlesbrough

Any team which doesn’t score goals is going to struggle to stay in the Premier League, so it was no surprise to see Middlesbrough go down. Under Aitor Karanka they were desperately boring and, in truth, he was sacked too late for the club to be saved. They do, however, have the majority of their promotion side in place which could lead to a quick return. Just, please, buy some strikers..

Sunderland

What a shambles at the Stadium of Light. Manager David Moyes started the season by telling everyone his team would be lucky to stay up — and where do you go from there? He was proved right but it hardly helped to set the agenda so early. Sunderland were this year’s whipping boys and if it had not been for Jermain Defoe, they could have been relegated even earlier.


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