As another entertaining and dramatic season of Premier League football begins to draw to a close it is time to reflect on what has been so far.
Team of the season – Manchester City
Without a shadow of a doubt this goes to Manchester City, who have blown away all opposition with a dazzling brand of football and are perhaps the best attacking side to have graced the Premier League. Pep Guardiola’s side sit atop the table and have a chance to win the title as early as 7 April against rivals Manchester United – the icing on top of what has been an amazing season for the Sky Blues.
For City, the goals have flooded in from all areas. Aguero has been brilliant yet again with 21 strikes, whilst Kevin de Bruyne has provided a masterful 14 assists – but is there time for him to break the record of 20 set by Thierry Henry? Another notable performer, of which there have been so many for City, has been goalkeeper Ederson, who has expertly filled what had previously been a troubling position for Guardiola.
Manager of the season – Pep Guardiola
After a somewhat difficult first season in English football Guardiola has, albeit with the help of outrageous amounts of money, moulded a team that is perhaps the best the league has ever seen.
With eight games remaining they need just 15 more points to break the Premier League points record of 95 set by Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea in 2004-05. Into the last eight of the Champions League and already holders of the Carabao Cup it remains to be seen if Pep, after a trophyless first season, can guide City to become the third British team, after Manchester United and Celtic, to complete a continental treble.
Surprise Package – Burnley
Burnley, led by Sean Dyche, have been one of the stories of the season. Despite dropping out of form after Christmas the Clarets are currently in 7th and have already surpassed their record points tally of 40, set last season. If Burnley can stay 7th and hope a top six side wins the FA Cup they would qualify for the Europa League, which, if they manage it, would mark a return to European football for the first time since the 1966/67 season.
Having one of the lowest wage bills in the competition makes what Dyche has been able to achieve even more impressive. Potential England number one Nick Pope in goal, a resilient back four, assists from Jóhann Gu∂mundsson and goals from Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes have been the keys to their success.
Signing of the season – Mohammed Salah
When Mohammed Salah arrived at Liverpool there were questions as to whether he could hack it at Premier League level after an underwhelming spell at Chelsea in 2014. Salah has proved the doubters comprehensively wrong by turning out a record-breaking season at Anfield as part of a deadly front three involving Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino.
Salah currently leads the race for the Golden Boot having amassed 24 Premier League goals and eight assists. He is the first Liverpool player since Luis Suarez to score 20 in a Premier League season, and he has a chance to break Suarez’s club record of 31 sets.
Underachievers – Arsenal
For Arsenal, it has been another season of disappointment as the saga surrounding Arsene Wènger’s seemingly never-ending tenure at the club continues. If the Gunners fail to win the Europa League, it is hard to imagine him returning for a 22nd season at the helm with the Emirates-based side languishing in 6th.
Game of the season – Liverpool 4-3 Manchester City
A pulsating seven-goal thriller at Anfield saw Liverpool hand Manchester City their only league defeat of the season so far. Three second half goals in nine minutes, including some fantastic finishes from Firmino, Mané and Salah, gave Liverpool breathing space. City put up a fight with two late goals, but Liverpool clung on in injury time to end the Blues hopes of an invincible season.
Despite the beautiful game being very much alive on the pitch – off the pitch there are uglier forces at play. Stories of extortionate ticket prices, rising wages and transfer fees, and fans being ignored in favour of big business – a prime example being the ugly scenes witnessed at West Ham recently – continue to make the headlines.
Manchester City have undoubtedly been a joy to watch, but questions must be asked about the source of their success. Sheikh Mansour’s wealth comes from a questionable regime in the United Arab Emirates, begging difficult questions about the sustainability and ethical nature of the Premier League.
Image courtesy of Milos Radovanovic