Others, like West Ham, Everton, and Southampton, are prepared to grow toward top-end competitions, while Stoke City and Leicester City hope to take the next step after relatively disappointing campaigns.
What’s the top question for each team? Read on…
Arsenal – This one’s easy: Forget will Arsene Wenger stay on (He will) — Will the Gunners name a sporting director and spend, spend, spend to rejoin the elite?
Bournemouth – Manager Eddie Howe and chairman Jeff Mostyn have steadily built the South coast team into a stylish threat that it isn’t afraid to spend, but can they build on their Top Half finish. More importantly, can they hang onto 16-goal man Joshua King, who scored more goals than anyone not on a European-qualifying team?
Brighton and Hove Albion – Chris Hughton is now thrice the Championship manager of the season, now can he identify which players can help him stay in the Premier League?
Burnley – Sean Dyche and the Clarets dug deep into their pocket books to stay in the Premier League for another season, now can the tiny club make the astute moves to do it again?
Chelsea – How will Antonio Conte organize his squad for his first season in the UEFA Champions League with Chelsea is a good one, but what will he do with older stars Diego Costa, Willian, and Cesc Fabregas?
Crystal Palace – Sam Allardyce may want to leave, which is fine, so who’s the right man to keep a very talented XI from underachieving? And will they be able to hang onto Wilfried Zaha?
Everton – This is less about squad than schedule: Assuming the Toffees dust their summer qualifier, how will Ronald Koeman negotiate both the Europa League and the Premier League?
Hull City – With Marco Silva reportedly off to Porto, there are two main questions for Hull: Can they find a new boss capable of keeping them near the top of the Championship, and able to convince ownership to keep spending?
Watford – How many managers will the Hornets employ in 2017-18?
West Bromwich Albion – Tony Pulis is asking to spend. If the Baggies back him, can he break free from his defensive shell and build a team that aims for more than 40 points and another season in the Premier League?
West Ham United – Both chairman David Gold and manager Slaven Bilic want to make West Ham a big, big club. Can they find the next Dimitri Payet and finally find the elite striker they’ve been chasing for years?
Arsenal – They fooled us again, you know? Arsenal ran through the Premier League following an Opening Day loss to Liverpool, not seeing another ‘L’ until a Dec. 13 loss at Everton. That one could count as a moment, but we’ll choose the following match. Raheem Sterling finished a classy Kevin De Bruyne pass to give the Gunners’ two losses in a row, and Arsenal wouldn’t beat a PL contender until toppling injury-hit Manchester United on May 7.
Bournemouth – Eddie Howe‘s bunch were winless in seven and trending downward when it arrived at Old Trafford on March 5. Marcos Rojo put United ahead in the 22nd and ex-Red Devil forward Josh King leveled via penalty in the 40th. The Cherries seemed doomed when Andrew Surman was sent off in the 45th, but somehow held on to grab a point (A missed Zlatan Ibrahimovic penalty didn’t help things). Bournemouth won its next two, then drew Liverpool and Southampton en route to a top half finish.
Burnley – The Clarets can thank Mike Dean for their signature moment, a 1-0 win via a handled Sam Vokes effort that moved Burnley into ninth place in the league. Ninth place for little old Burnley. Sean Dyche‘s club would stay up. Now where will it go?
Chelsea – The Blues led the Premier League after August, but had dropped to eighth by the end of September. By the start of November, Chelsea sat fourth in the table. Everton arrived at Stamford Bridge, and the Blues absolutely throttled the Merseyside club. Eden Hazard scored twice, the first moments before Marcos Alonso made it 3-0, and both Diego Costa and Pedro had also scored before the match was through. 5-0 spelled the fifth-straight win, and the Blues went on to win a historic 13-straight PL games.
Everton – It was a season, or at least half-season, of “so close” for Ronald Koeman‘s men. It didn’t get much clearer than the match that followed the Toffees’ second loss in the Merseyside Derby. Everton looked set for a rebound and a win at Old Trafford when Ashley Williams’ handled Luke Shaw’s stoppage time shot to allow Zlatan Ibrahimovic a penalty kick that stole a point for the Red Devils.
Hull City – Unsure if this counts as “the season”, but Steve Bruce quitting the club three weeks before the season because of a lack of transfer ambition (amongst other things) spelled doom for the club far before Marco Silva nearly saved their season.
Leicester City – Firing Claudio Ranieri was a massive risk. The Foxes had posted the most remarkable season in world soccer less than a year before cutting ties with the Italian. While some — like me — would argue that transfer pick-up Wilfred Ndidi was the real reason for the turnaround, it also coincided with the managerial change.
Liverpool – The Reds had a knack for playing like results were expected against lesser lights, and late conceded goals are easy to find when reviewing their season (See Swansea below). It happened against powerful Manchester United, but it also happened against Sunderland. Jermain Defoe scored the second goal of his brace in the 84th minute to cost the Black Cats two points… again.
Manchester City – Pep Guardiola led City to six-straight PL wins at the start of the season, but could only watch as Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs bettered him 2-0 at White Hart Lane to drop City to 6-1. It was one of just six losses on the season, five of which came away from the Etihad Stadium. That away form didn’t impress Guardiola, and it didn’t help City chase the title.
Manchester United – While their moment may still be coming in the form of Wednesday’s Europa League Final against Ajax, we’ll go with Jose Mourinho’s first tournament win with United: the EFL Cup Final. NBC analyst Robbie Earle often talks about good teams needing to find a way to win when they aren’t at their best, and United did it at Wembley. It could be a harbinger of what’s to come.
Middlesbrough – Boro went to West Brom on Aug. 28, unbeaten in a pair of PL matches. It remained unbeaten following the 0-0 draw, but the zero on its side of the scoreboard was extra significant for one reason: It was the first of a whopping 19 times that the Smoggies were kept off the scoreboard, including seven scoreless draws.
Southampton – Most of these moments are related to Premier League play, but the perfect summation of Saints’ up-and-down season may be the EFL Cup Final. Many believe Saints were the better side that day, only to fall short. The same can be said for their Europa League campaign. But results matter, and Saints didn’t make it back to Europe via either route.
Sunderland – The Black Cats managed to take multiple steps back for every step forward, so it’s fitting that we mark the 4-0 loss at home to Southampton on Feb. 11. It followed a 4-0 win against old manager Sam Allardyce and Crystal Palace and a scoreless draw against Spurs. Sunderland was battered by a pair Manolo Gabbiadini goals, and the loss started a run that saw the Black Cats manage points in a whopping three of its 14 remaining matches.
Tottenham Hotspur – Spurs lost just four Premier League matches this season, and responded to each with a PL win. Three of those were blowouts, and the fourth was a 2-1 May win over Manchester United. One of those bounce backs happened to be two weeks after a road loss to Liverpool and three days after Spurs were bounced from the Champions League by Genk, as Harry Kane scored one of his four season hat trick and Dele Alli also scored in a 4-0 demolition of Stoke City.
West Bromwich Albion – There’s a moment in every season which sees Tony Pulis‘ Baggies tease us with what they could do if they just allowed a little bit of open play to hamper their “Just Survive” mentality. This year it was a 3-1 win over Arsenal which begged West Brom supporters to imagine life in the Top Seven, only to let them down with another post-safety collapse. Woof.
Plus, click on the link above to follow all of ProSoccerTalk’s reviews of the 2016-17 season.
Let’s get to it.
Final position: 5th (Europa League group stage) Star man: Alexis Sanchez – Involved in 34 goals (24 scored, 10 assisted) Sanchez was the main man once again. He’ll likely move on this summer. The Gaffer: Arsene Wenger – Speculation over his future dominated the entire season and the Arsenal boss admitted it cost them a place in the top four. A poor season by Wenger’s very, very high standards. Mark out of 10: 5/10 – Not making the top four for the 21st consecutive season is the wake-up call Arsenal needed. Collapse after UCL exit to Bayern Munich costly and speculation around Wenger, Ozil and Sanchez impacted the whole team. Late surge couldn’t save them. Season summed up in a word: Regression.
Final position: 9th Star man: Josh King – The Norwegian was on fire in 2017, scoring 13 of his 16 PL goals. The big boys will come calling this summer. The Gaffer: Eddie Howe – A fine job from Howe as he stuck to his philosophy even when a relegation battle looked likely. Strong finish cemented his status as one of the best young managers in Europe. Mark out of 10: 8/10 – Their highest-ever finish as a club says it all. The Cherries shook off suggestions of a Sophomore slump and rallied late in the season. Third-straight season of PL despite getting some big transfer moves wrong. Season summed up in a word: Progression.
Final position: 16th Star man: Tom Heaton – Will surely challenge Joe Hart for England’s No.1 jersey after a fine season. His goal was peppered with efforts but he was the star man on many occasions. Heaton led by example as the skipper. The Gaffer: Sean Dyche – “The Ginger Mourinho” showed his class once again as he made Burnley tough to beat and worked wonders with limited resources. Expect to see him in the PL for many, many years. Mark out of 10: 8/10 – With just one away win all season the Clarets relied on their home form and they turned Turf Moor into a fortress. Dyche and his squad learned from their previous exploits in the PL and adapted much better this time. Key addition of Hendrick in midfield worked superbly. Season summed up in a word: Resilience.
Final position: 1st (Champions League group stage) Star man: N'Golo Kante – The PFA Player of the Year was sublime in midfield and he has now won two titles on the spin. Phenomenal athlete and wonderful soccer brain. He remains unassuming but is getting all of the credit he deserves. Azpilicueta, Luiz, Hazard and Costa all had fine seasons too. The Gaffer: Antonio Conte – Italian maestro galvanized Chelsea early in the season and placed his side in a 3-4-3 formation to perfection. His first season in England couldn’t have gone any better. Mark out of 10: 10/10 – Chelsea were the most efficient team in the PL and setting a record of 30 wins from 38 games says it all. Only one small wobble during the run-in and not having European action helped them dominate the PL. Ruthless. Season summed up in a word: Dominant.
Final position: 14th Star man: Wilfried Zaha – The winger is finally coming of age and in the second half of the season he was sublime. Wilf has the pace and power to terrify opponents and now he’s adding the goals and assists. The Gaffer: Alan Pardew/Sam Allardyce – Pardew dismissed around the festive period with Palace in huge trouble. Allardyce struggled initially but marquee wins late in the season edged the Eagles away from the bottom three. Job done for Big Sam. Mark out of 10: 5/10 – This expensively assembled squad massively under-performed with Benteke and Cabaye struggling. Big wins against Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool saved them and showed what they’re capable of. Season summed up in a word: Shaky.
Final position: 7th (Europa League third-qualifying round) Star man: Romelu Lukaku – The big Belgian scored 25 times in the PL but his future remains uncertain as Chelsea and others circle. Lukaku’s goals took the Toffees back to Europe. The Gaffer: Ronald Koeman – A very solid first season at Goodison Park as Everton flirted with the top four throughout the campaign. Another summer of his buys and this will be a true Koeman team. Mark out of 10: 7/10 – Overall a fine season for Everton. Not getting further in the cup competitions will have been annoying but being back in the Europa League was always the aim. Mission accomplished. Season summed up in a word: Rebuilding.
Final position: 18th (Relegated) Star man: Harry Maguire – The marauding center back surely remain in the PL with another club. Handed the captains armband and excelled with perfectly-timed tackles and vital goals. Couldn’t do it all on his own. The Gaffer: Mike Phelan/Marco Silva – Phelan didn’t really have a chance after Steve Bruce left before the season but started well before fading badly. Silva has been a revelation since arriving, somehow giving Hull a chance of survival as he wheeled and dealed, then made them into a solid outfit. The Portuguese coach is high on the list of many PL clubs this summer. Mark out of 10: 6/10 – Okay, so the Tigers were relegated but they did better than most expected. They looked dead and buried for most of the season but a fine charge late on showed character and took things down to the penultimate weekend of the season. Season summed up in a word: Valiant.
Final position: 12th Star man: Kasper Schmeichel – The Danish goalkeeper was superb for most of the season and had to make a string of fine saves in Leicester’s fairytale run to the UCL quarterfinal. He gets better every season. The Gaffer: Claudio Ranieri/Craig Shakespeare – Such a shame that Ranieri was fired but Leicester were in freefall and heading for relegation under his guidance. Shakespeare steadied the ship but there’s still uncertainty over whether he will get the gig full time. Mark out of 10: 5/10 – Never recovered from a poor start and although the UCL run took its toll, this squad underachieved massively compared to their title-winning campaign 12 months ago. This season showed what a miracle their PL title win was. Season summed up in a word: Reality.
Final position: 4th (Champions League playoff round) Star man: Sadio Mane – The Senegalese flyer was on fire whenever he played but after missing a large chunk of the season through AFCON duty and injury, Liverool fans will be wondering what could’ve been. Joint-top scorer with 13 goals and his pace adds an extra dimension to their attack. The Gaffer: Jurgen Klopp – In his first full season at Liverpool the German coach delivered a Champions League return for just the second time in eight seasons. It looked like they might mount a title charge but defensive weaknesses cost them during a bad run in January. Mark out of 10: 7/10 – This season could’ve been so much better for Liverpool had they not wobbled massively at the turn of the year. That said, they recovered well and achieved what many expected for them this season: a top four finish. Season summed up in a word: Expected.
Final position: 3rd Star man: David Silva – Wonderful season from the Spanish midfielder who not only created and scored goals but became the heartbeat of the team. Guardiola put all his faith in Silva and he repaid him. Perhaps his best-ever season at City. The Gaffer: Pep Guardiola – A tough first season for Pep in the PL as defensive issues riddled City’s progress. Claudio Bravo and John Stones struggled with the free-flowing style expected in defense and this will have been a huge learning curve. First season as a manager without any silverware. Mark out of 10: 6/10 – Given all the changes and the fact that City have an ageing squad, third place was fine. But that’s it. The UCL exit to Monaco in Round of 16 was a big disappointment, as was the FA Cup semifinal defeat to Arsenal. Season summed up in a word: Average.
Middlesbrough: Officially relegated, Boro drops a spot (and, yeah, Sunderland winning a match helped the move, too).
Sunderland: Beginning the race for re-promotion with a win over desperate Hull City. It’s something.
Hull City: Still not sure the loss to Sunderland actually happened.
Swansea City: Gylfi Sigurdsson calling upon the spirit of Iceland, and Fernando Llorente continues to come good at the right time.
Crystal Palace: Three-straight losses, two to Premier League powers, could have the Eagles in a precarious spot should Hull take three points at Selhurst Park this weekend.
Watford: Thumped by Leicester to walk its losing streak to three.
West Bromwich Albion: When the preseason goal is clearly “survive”, should it be any surprise when the Baggies start yawning soon after the 40-point mark?
Burnley: Sean Dyche has the Clarets primed for another Premier League season. Unlike West Brom, this is a fine preseason goal come good.
Stoke City: The PL’s muddled middle is keeping a top half finish possible for Mark Hughes‘ Potters.
Southampton: The Arsenal loss is no shame, and Saints’ shutout of Liverpool was pretty good, too.
Bournemouth: The wins over Boro and Sunderland were nice (and important), but the 2-2 draw with Stoke shows that Eddie Howe remains in control of the Cherries’ upward growth.
West Ham United: Unbeaten in five with four clean sheets since the 3-0 loss to Arsenal.
Everton: It’s probably difficult to play with desperation when you’re dead set in 7th, but we still expect more from Ronald Koeman‘s bunch.
Leicester City: With respect to the Craig Shakespeare effect, we can’t help but wonder if the Foxes would still be competing for a spot in Europe if Wilfried Ndidi was signed in August instead of January.
Manchester United: See: The Red Devils can lose. They just need to play a second-tier lineup and be focused on a match in the future.
Arsenal: With the odds very long, the Gunners are finally piling up wins. Too little, too late for the Top Four?
Liverpool: Disappointing draw, even given Saints’ dogged defense.
Manchester City: Back in the win column with style, cruising past Palace 5-0.
Tottenham Hotspur: Everyone loses (besides Celtic) every now and then.
Chelsea: Will be popping champagne come Friday unless West Brom reverses form in fabulous fashion.
No breakthrough yet for Hull as the Tigers attempt to put heat on Crystal Palace and open up more space from Swansea City. Hull probably should’ve been awarded a penalty for a clumsy handball from John O'Shea.