Hojbjerg the great, young Dane ready to lead Saints’ revival

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SOUTHAMPTON — Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is a born fighter. When he speaks, he speaks with purpose and you listen. When he walks out onto the pitch for Southampton he gives everything he has to the cause.

In the current situation Saints are in, they need Hojbjerg leading their charge out of the relegation zone under new manager Ralph Hasenhuttl in the tough weeks and months to come.

At the age of 23, Hojbjerg seems like the perfect man to lead Hasenhuttl’s high-pressing style from midfield with the Danish international becoming a firm fans favorite in Southampton as they called for him to become their new captain.

It is hard to not want Hojbjerg to do well, as he spoke eloquently to Pro Soccer Talk about doing all he can to succeed and trying to help his teammates around him improve at the same time.

Without a win since Sept. 1, and with just one PL victory from 16 games so far this season, Hojbjerg and Southampton welcome high-flying Arsenal to St Mary’s this Sunday (Watch live, 8:30 a.m. ET online via NBC Sports Gold).

Big changes have occurred at the top of the club in recent weeks with Les Reed, the long-time leader of their football operations fired, and Mark Hughes replaced by Hasenhuttl.

Many believe that Southampton is a club on the edge of the abyss, one that has no clear plan or direction to get themselves out of a second-straight relegation scrap after four years of top eight finishes, playing in Europe and going far in cups fuelled by buying low and selling high.

Their fiery Danish midfielder, who speaks Danish, French, German and English among other languages, thinks otherwise.

“It is always easy to point at one thing when things are not going as you’d like to, or expect to or as you thought so. I have to disagree,” Hojbjerg said. “I also have to be honest and say I don’t know exactly what the problem is. Because I think there are small parts that play a role and in the end it gives a result on the pitch. We, as players, we are the ones who go out on the pitch and we have to win the games. That is what I’m focusing on. That is what I’m trying to do to create a positive situation. I do not know what happens behind the doors of the directors, or staff members, or coaches. I can tell you that from the players perspective, we are giving everything on the training pitch and every Saturday and Sunday in the stadium. Because we know that is the main focus and that is the main achievement. That is football. That is on the pitch. That is getting results.”

Hasenhuttl has been tasked with changing Southampton’s fortunes around on the pitch, as the former RB Leipzig and Ingolstadt coach has run his players into the ground during his first full week at the club. Hojbjerg played against Hasenhuttl’s¬†Ingolstadt during his time in Germany and described them as “nasty to play against” as well as being “tough and well organized.”

Gruelling longer training sessions, cancelling days off and painting new lines onto the training pitches at their Staplewood base are just a few of the ways he is trying to force Saints to become better organized as well as implement his famous high-press.

Hojbjerg has worn the captains armband for Southampton in recent weeks, and it is expected that will continue. With his straight-talking off the pitch and grit on it, he seems to have already a huge impact on those around him in his new role. This season, no other regular PL captain is under the age of 25.

The man who became the youngest-ever player for Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga in 2013 said being named Saints’ skipper was the “proudest moment” of his career so far and something he could only dream about when growing up in Copenhagen.

But what does it mean to be a leader?

“If you talk in the changing room then people will stop listening then,” Hojbjerg said. “Talking has to be done on the pitch. Talking has to be done when it is tough. Talking has to be done when the moment is tight and you have to show your personality, stand true and you have to be a leader. I always say there are eleven leaders on the pitch because we all need to support each other. We all need to take responsibility for the position we are in. Whatever it is, I think I always try to give it my best and 100 percent. I know what I stand for. I know what the club stands for and what the values are. I just try to be me.”

“I cannot swear but it is really big… yeah, to be captain in the Premier League, if you would have asked me when I was 10, 15, 17, I would have taken it any day of the week. I am not saying it because I am a Southampton player and I have to show I am a club man and I am dedicated. I am saying it from my heart. It is the proudest moment of my career to be recognized as a captain at Southampton Football Club in the Premier League, at my age. But again it is not something I think of when I go on the pitch. It is something you feel in your stomach. You are a little bit excited but once the football game starts I play exactly the same.”

In just over two years at Southampton, Hojbjerg has played for four permanent managers. Claude Puel, Mauricio Pellegrino, Hughes and now Hasenhuttl. He has tasted the high and lows of the game. From playing in the Europa League, major cup finals and semifinals and finishing in the top eight to just surviving relegation last season, the Dane has grown up on and off the pitch.

Despite his topsy-turvy start to life in England, Hojbjerg believes his decision to leave Bayern for Southampton was still the correct one.

“It is funny because you always expect when you come with that coach, or that teammate, you don’t expect that to change,” Hojbjerg said. “You come to the club with an idea of the coach, idea of your teammates and you don’t think ‘oh, but the coach is going to leave in six months or next week, or whatever.’ That was not the mindset that I came in with. But I came in with a mindset that now I am a part of Southampton Football Club. I am not a part of this coach, or this player or this sporting director. I am a part of Southampton Football Club. That was one of the big reasons that I came here. What I have felt for a long time is that even though the club, in a very short time, became a ‘big small club’ if you know what I mean, there were good traditions, good people, good experienced people who knew the club from inside for a long time. So there are values you can rely on, you could depend on and see yourself in. That was a big positive.”

Life off the pitch is settling down for Hojbjerg in England.

He lives in Winchester, a picturesque English cathedral city 15 minutes outside of Southampton with his partner and his young daughter, Rosa, and enjoys hitting up the grocery store at least once a week. When there he stocks his cart with vegetables and anything healthy he can get. He jokes when asked if he cooks:¬†“I try to cook, but I’m not good at it. There is a thing called ketchup. It is quite useful.”

Having a child in his first few years in England has brought a whole new dimension to Hojbjerg, a young man who had to deal with tragedy at the age of 18 when his father passed away after a battle with stomach cancer.

The tough times he has been through on a personal level in the past few years have no doubt led Hojbjerg to thinking about the bigger picture more than most.

“When you get older your values and intentions become stronger, of who you are and what you want to do,” Hojbjerg said. “As you get older, you get more experienced, as you have family and have a kid, things just point in one direction to really what you want to achieve in life and in your career. I am very ambitious but I am also very realistic. I know what I want, I know what I can’t do. I will never stop until I’m finished… I think I am in a good moment, playing wise, but it is difficult to perform 100 percent when, to be fair, we are struggling in the league. I am giving my best, I am trying my best and I know I can get better but I also know I am in a very good way.”

This season the busy central midfielder has added goals and a cutting edge to his game, with a sensational strike against Brighton the highlight (also his first in the PL), plus he scored in Saints’ only win of the campaign away at Crystal Palace.

Hojbjerg also struck the post at Wembley in a recent defeat to Tottenham Hotspur and in his last four PL games he has had 14 shots at goal, one of the highest totals of any player in the league. Not bad for someone who primarily plays in front of the back four. It is clear he is doing anything he can to help drag his team out of the bottom three.

Always up for the challenge, Hojbjerg is ready to take on whoever and whatever stands in Southampton’s way this season as a great, young Dane could be the difference between them staying up or going down.

“I have a home with love, and a family. That is the most important thing. When I come here, to the training ground, I am energized and ready to go again every single day and take on whoever stands in front of me!” Hojbjerg said, holding his arms out and smiling. “That is how it is. I am ready for whoever stands in front of me.”

Mark Hughes signs new long-term contract at Southampton

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Mark Hughes has gone from Stoke City outcast to Southampton savior in little under six months time.

The Welsh boss was let go from Stoke City with the Potters 18th in the table and headed towards eventual relegation, but he was picked up by fellow relegation candidates Southampton after the departure of Mauricio Pellegrino. He steered the club to safety, finishing three points above the drop in 17th.

With the Saints in the top flight for another season, the club has announced the signing of Hughes to a new three-year contract.

‚ÄúMark, Eddie and I are thrilled to have signed long-term contracts with the club. It was the only option we considered, having spent the last eight weeks with the club,” Hughes said of himself and his assistant coaches¬†Mark Bowen and Eddie Niedzwiecki. ‚ÄúNow it is vital that we take the unbelievable support we received from the fans during the last few games into next season. The staff and the players will work hard every day to deliver the success this club deserves, and with everyone pulling together we will achieve our goals.‚ÄĚ

Hughes guided Stoke City to three consecutive ninth-placed finishes, the highest the club had ever finished in the English top flight, but they finished 13th last year and regressed even further this campaign. The sale of playmaker Marko Arnautovic was particularly damaging, and the club scored just 35 goals in 38 games as a result.

At Southampton, Hughes took over a club that sat in 17th with just eight matches to go. He lost three Premier League games in a row to start his tenure and only won two league matches with Saints the rest of the way, but managed to keep the club barely afloat.

Revisiting PST’s preseason Premier League predictions

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Back in August, we asked our staff to pick its 1-20 table and answer a bevy of roundtable questions.

[ MORE: Atleti wins Europa League ]

The crystal ball ain’t so crystal clear.

The table

— Five of six writers had Manchester City lifting the Premier League trophy, with Nick Mendola’s (me) audacious 90-point total the closest to City’s actual 100 points. Kyle Bonn picked Manchester United to win the league.

–Nick Mendola’s (me) equally audacious prediction that Burnley would finish 20th with 18 total points has had him apologizing on this page for months. Way to go, numbskull.

— No one called more than one relegated team correctly. Swansea had three people pick it for the drop, while I was the lone one to tab West Brom. JPW and Andy Edwards failed to name a single relegated team.

— Who had a team finishing the most spots higher than they did? JPW and Andy Edwards had 16th place Southampton finishing 8th.¬†I had eventually relegated Stoke in 11th, while JPW had them 10th, and Andy Edwards had them 7th!

— Chelsea’s fifth place finish was a surprise to everyone; Only JPW had them finishing lower than second… in third.

— Surprised Arsenal finished in sixth? Kyle Bonn, Andy Edwards, and Matt Reed aren’t.

The roundtable

— We asked who’d go the further in the Champions League, and JPW was the only one to name Liverpool (although he hedged in a bit by saying the Reds¬†and Man City).

— We asked who’d score the most league goals between Romelu Lukaku,¬†Harry Kane, Alvaro Morata,¬†Alexandre Lacazette, or Sergio Aguero? Four correctly went with Kane, with Kyle Bonn wrong with Lukaku and this humble writer wrong with Lacazette.

— We asked which Premier League player would feel worst about his decision to leave his previous PL club, and we were all wrong (except perhaps JPW’s choice of Wayne Rooney, but that’s debatable). Dan Karell said Virgil Van Dijk, Matt Reed said Nemanja Matic, and I said Kyle Walker. All are probably quite happy with the manner of their seasons.

— We asked who’d fare better between manager Marco¬†Silva, Frank De Boer, or Mauricio Pellegrino. They were all fired, though Silva’s departure was least his fault. So JPW wins again.

— We predicted who’d get fired first. The winner was Frank De Boer, but we all named men who’d get the sack. Craig Shakespeare (JPW), Paul Clement (me), Marco Silva (Matt Reed and Kyle Bonn), and Mark Hughes (Dan Karell).

— We asked which newly-promoted club will finish higher. Four of the five said Newcastle, with someone trying to hide his bias by saying Brighton.

— We asked who’d finish highest and lowest of this group:¬†Southampton, Stoke¬†City, West¬†Bromwich Albion, West Ham United, Leicester City.

Leicester finished highest and West Brom finished 20th. Dan and I correctly tabbed Leicester, while four of us correctly pegged the Baggies as the lowest.

— As for who would get promoted from the Championship, so far we’re 1/12. That could move to three if Dan and Kyle are correct in picking Fulham. Matt tabbed Cardiff City.

Premier League season reviews: Clubs 20-15

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With the 2017/18 Premier League season now done and dusted, it’s time to review the campaign for all 20 clubs.

[ MORE: Grades for all 20 PL clubs ]

Below we kick off our season reviews by analyzing the key moments, the star men and how the managers performed for the teams who finished 20th to 15th in the PL table.

[ MORE: Clubs 14-10 | Clubs 9-5 ]

Here we go…


West Bromwich Albion

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Final place: 20th with 31 points (relegated to Championship)
Defining moment: Hiring Alan Pardew and then winning just one of their next 21 PL games.
Biggest victory: Away at Manchester United 1-0 to not only keep their survival hopes alive for a few more games but also hand the PL title to Man City.
Low point: A stretch of eight-straight defeats from February to March when all but ended any hope of survival.
Star man: Venezuelan striker Salomon Rondon was a beast up top, scored 10 goals in all competitions and has a $25 million release clause in his contract so we will likely see him in the Premier League next season.
Manager(s) marks out of 10: Tony Pulis (4/10), Alan Pardew (1/10), Darren Moore (7/10)
Grade for the season: F


Stoke City

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Final place: 19th with 33 points (relegated to Championship)
Defining moment: The worst defensive record in the league, a 7-2 hammering at Man City underlined just how bad this Stoke defense was. Yes, they were playing City, but the way they were dismantled unearthed all of their issues.
Biggest victory: Not many to choose from but it was probably the early season 1-0 win at home against Arsenal as Jese scored the winner. Man, that seems like a long time ago.
Low point: They got ahead several times in games late in the campaign but couldn’t hold onto leads. Specifically the way they crumbled to lose at home to Palace, after leading, stands out. Jack Butland‘s tears will be the enduring image of a sad, sad season.
Star man: There is no way Xherdan Shaqiri will still be at Stoke next season and a big World Cup for the Swiss winger should seal a move elsewhere in the PL or to a top club overseas. He had eight goals and seven assists but couldn’t drag the Potters to safety.
Manager(s) marks out of 10: Mark Hughes (3/10), Paul Lambert (2/10)
Grade for the season: F


Swansea City

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Final place: 18th with 33 points (relegated to the Championship)
Defining moment: Following their 4-1 win against West Ham, it seemed as though everyone at Swansea relaxed after their shocking start to the season. The Swans rose to 13th and everything was looking rosy.
Biggest victory: Beating Liverpool at home in January was a huge boost and the Swans were in full flow at that point after Carvalhal’s arrival in late December. They beat Arsenal in the next home game and had a run of four wins in six as they looked almost safe from relegation…
Low point: Losing at home to Southampton in the final week of the season. A draw would’ve probably done the trick but the Swans didn’t show up and all but sealed their fate by losing 1-0.
Star man: Lukasz Fabianski was a machine in goal all season long as the Polish international was in tears on the final day once relegated had been confirmed.
Manager(s) marks out of 10: Paul Clement (3/10), Carlos Carvalhal (5/10)
Grade for the season: F


Southampton

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Final place: 17th with 36 points
Defining moment: Beating Bournemouth at home with four games to go reignited hope they could save themselves from relegation. Mark Hughes had liftoff after being put in charge for the final eight games of the season as nobody really gave Saints a chance.
Biggest victory: The win away at Swansea during the final week of the season in what had basically become a relegation playoff. Saints held their nerve and Manolo Gabbiadini‘s late strike all-but secured their safety. The relief on the face of Hughes and his players at the final whistle said it all.
Low point: A run of just one win in 21 games under Mauricio Pellegrino as the club stuck with the Argentine coach as long as they could but the players just never responded to his defensive tactics.
Star man: Alex McCarthy came in midway through the season to replace Fraser Forster in goal and didn’t put a foot wrong as he was crowned Southampton’s player of the season. Dusan Tadic was also big down the stretch with his two goals against Bournemouth crucial.
Manager(s) marks out of 10: Mauricio Pellegrino (2/10), Mark Hughes (8/10)
Grade for the season: D


Huddersfield Town

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Final place: 16th with 37 points
Defining moment: Digging deep to draw 0-0 at both Manchester City and Chelsea in the final week of the season to secure their status in the Premier League. Remarkable resolve.
Biggest victory: Beating Manchester United at home early in the season gave David Wagner‘s men plenty of belief that they belonged in the top-flight.
Low point: A run of five-straight defeats in January and early February which saw them slump from midtable into the relegation zone.
Star man: Jonas Lossl must get a shout out for his performances in goal, especially late in the season, but throughout the campaign Aaron Mooy was the man who made the Terriers tick. They missed him badly when he was out injured.
Manager marks out of 10: David Wagner (9/10)
Grade for the season: A


Brighton & Hove Albion

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Final place: 15th with 40 points
Defining moment: Three home wins on the spin in February and March which culminated by beating Arsenal. Chris Hughton‘s side were almost safe from that point on.
Biggest victory: Beating Manchester United at home in the final week of the season to finally secure PL safety.
Low point: Four defeats in five around November/December time which saw the Seagulls drop back into the relegation discussion. That was pretty much it.
Star man: Pascal Gross had a fine season with the German playmaker scoring seven goals and added eight assists, while you have to applaud the defensive duo of Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk at the heart of the Seagulls defense.
Manager marks out of 10: Chris Hughton (8/10)
Grade for the season: B+

2017/18 grades for each Premier League club

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With the 2017/18 Premier League season now over after a hectic Championship Sunday, it is time to take stock of how each team did over the course of the gruelling nine-month campaign.

Below we dish out a grade to all 20 teams based on how they performed this season and if they overachieved or underachieved.

It’s safe to say we have a real mixed bag…


Manchester City: A+
Basically perfect. Record points (100), wins (32) and goals (106) in a single PL season says it all. Pep Guardiola‘s side were imperious and with just two defeats throughout the season (at Liverpool and a shocking loss at home to Man United after leading 2-0) they never looked in doubt of securing the title, especially after their 18-game winning run which shattered another PL record. Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva ran the show, while Ederson and Kyle Walker were huge upgrades in defense. Yes, they lost to Liverpool in the Champions League quarterfinals, but Guardiola has built something special and this City team has the stench of a dynasty. Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling and and Nicolas Otamendi have all improved drastically too, as Pep’s plan is in full-flow.

Burnley: A
A truly superb season from the Clarets as Sean Dyche led Burnley to a seventh-place finish and a first spot in Europe since 1967. A solid defensive setup with Nick Pope stepping in admirably for the injured Tom Heaton in goal was complimented by Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood up top. Dyche is working miracles on a shoestring budget at Burnley and the fact that several “bigger” clubs are sniffing around him makes perfect sense. The model PL club in just their second season back in the league and now they have a Europa League campaign to look forward to. Thursday nights under the lights at Turf Moor will be a wonderful spectacle for Burnley’s fans.

Huddersfield Town: A
In their first-ever season in the Premier League, the Terriers saw a fast start fade badly but two draws at Man City and Chelsea in the final week of action secured their PL status. David Wagner has the Huddersfield fans, players and staff all pulling in the right direction and despite a lack of quality in some areas they’ve survived with an incredible fighting spirit. Aaron Mooy and Jonas Lossl have been two of the standout players for the Terriers but it has been all about the team first mentality which has seen them survive. It will now be intriguing to see if they can follow in the footsteps of Bournemouth in establishing themselves as a PL club. The fairytale continues in West Yorkshire…

Tottenham Hotspur: B+
Yes, there will be plenty of talk about Spurs not mounting a proper challenge for the Premier League title as they did in the past few seasons but Mauricio Pochettino‘s side navigated a season at Wembley in impressive fashion to finish third. Just two defeats at home (to Chelsea and Man City) and another fine season from Harry Kane (30 goals) led Spurs to a top four finish and they came oh so close to making the UEFA Champions League last eight but came unstuck against Juventus despite dominating over two legs. Having the best record of any club in the UCL group stage means a lot and now moving back into their new stadium at White Hart Lane, Spurs can kick on. Dele Alli had an up and down campaign, while Christian Eriksen kicked on and Pochettino’s biggest problem over the summer will be signing players to new deals to stop Europe’s elite from trying to buy them. Daniel Levy runs a tight ship as chairman and you get the sense this Spurs team will stay together for at least one more season in their new stadium. Next season the talk about them not winning silverware will intensify if they start off slow but the latter rarely happens under Poch.

Newcastle United: B+
Rafael Benitez masterminded Newcastle’s survival with a strong defensive core as the Magpies were tough to break down and had some impressive wins, especially at home. With the cloud of Mike Ashley trying to sell the club hanging over the team for most of the season, Benitez focussed the group expertly in the second half of the campaign as they pulled away from the relegation zone. A top 10 finish has to be aim next season and a new owner could turn the Magpies into a top six club if money is available to spend on new players, especially in attack. Benitez has enhanced his reputation massively with the job he has done at St James’ Park and the big win against Chelsea on the final day underlines how much progress they’ve made.

Liverpool: B+
Could be an A if they win the Champions League final against Real Madrid in a few weeks, but Jurgen Klopp should be applauded for the way he has progressed this Liverpool side. Mohamed Salah is the undoubted star as the Premier League’s top goalscorer (32 goals sets a new record for a 38-game season) and the Egyptian is surely leading the discussion of the best players on the planet not named Messi or Ronaldo. Alongside Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, Salah has ripped PL defenses apart all season long as Klopp’s “heavy metal” soccer has been sensational when it clicks. Salah’s brilliance totalled overshadowed Philippe Coutinho‘s departure to Barcelona in January for almost $200 million. Virgil Van Dijk‘s $100 million arrival strengthened Liverpool’s defense (even if there were still some shocking mistakes along the way), while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Andrew Robertson have been great pick ups in the transfer market. The Reds look the most likely to seriously challenge Man City for the title next season given their defeats of Guardiola’s side in the league and UCL.

Brighton & Hove Albion: B+
Chris Hughton has to be one of the most underrated managers around. Much like Benitez at Newcastle, the newly-promoted Seagulls relied on a solid defensive unit led by Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk and had the likes of Pascal Gross, Jose Izquierdo and Glenn Murray to deliver goals and assists in attack. A wonderfully well-run club who could become a top 10 team in the next few years. Brighton have quietly gone about their business this season and have had big wins at home against Arsenal and Man United in the second half of the campaign to help seal their top-flight status for another season.

Manchester United: B

Solid season for Jose Mourinho as his team progressed from a sixth-place finish last season (remember: they basically binned the league to focus on the Europa League last season, so it’s a little skewed) to second place, but they’re still so far behind neighbors Man City. Plenty of unanswered questions remain for Mourinho to sort out this summer surrounding the futures of Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and others. The fact that David De Gea is their clear Player of the Season (that’s now four POTY awards in his last five seasons) says it all. Romelu Lukaku has delivered 27 goals in all competitions but losing to Sevilla in the Round of 16 in the Champions League was a big blow. That said, Mourinho can still deliver the FA Cup and finish in second place which isn’t a bad season, all things considered. You feel as though plenty of deadwood will be cut this summer and given the new long-term contract he signed in January, Mourinho will get to spend big, especially defensively, to try and close the gap to City.

Crystal Palace: B
The Eagles had the worst start in PL history ever, losing their opening eight games without scoring a goal. Frank De Boer‘s appointment as boss just didn’t work out as Palace tried to change their brand of soccer but without a squad able to possess the ball and dominate the tempo of games. They reverted to type with Roy Hodgson coming in during September and a solid defensive base restored. Wilfried Zaha‘s return to fitness coincided with a huge upturn in results in the second half of the season as Hodgson led a massive turnaround with the Eagles finishing in 11th. They can be a top 10 team next season, easily, as long as Zaha sticks around. With ambitious plans kicking on to improve their stadium, the fanatical supporters at Selhurst should have plenty to be excited about over the summer.

Chelsea: C+

What a weird season for Chelsea. The reigning champions have seemed to be in a slump almost since the moment they won the title back in May 2017, as Antonio Conte‘s rhetoric has been constantly negative. The Italian coach calling out the Chelsea hierarchy (especially around Nemanja Matic‘s departure) was never going to go well but they came close to doing well in the Champions League but were edged out by Barcelona and Lionel Messi’s brilliance in the Round of 16. Alvaro Morata’s arrival for big money hasn’t gone as planned and Eden Hazard has had an up and down season with Conte falling out with David Luiz, Gary Cahill and Diego Costa leading to awkward situations. They’ve made the FA Cup final against Man United as Conte could sign-off with a trophy in what is expected to be his final game in charge despite having another year on his deal. Plenty of change on the horizon with a new manager expected and perhaps the likes of Hazard and Thibaut Courtois leaving the Bridge.

Leicester City: C+
Pretty peculiar season for the Foxes but overall, has to be a success given the start they had. Craig Shakespeare lost his job following a run of just one win in their first eight games and Claude Puel not only steadied the ship but has pushed them into the top half of the table with runs to the last eight of both the League Cup and FA Cup. That said, Puel is under pressure and may well lose his job as the Leicester fans are unhappy with the slow, possession-based style he prefers. That cost Puel his job at Southampton too but you can’t argue with two top 10 finishes on his resume in his two seasons as a boss in the PL. Jamie Vardy has had a fine season with another 20 goals scored, while Harry Maguire has proved to be an inspired defensive signing and Riyad Mahrez recovered well from the disappointment of not getting his big move to Man City during the January window.

Arsenal: C+
The big story around Arsenal’s season is Arsene Wenger stepping down after almost 22 years in charge of the Gunners. This moment was coming but after a second-straight season finishing outside of the top four, now is a good time for Arsenal to move on. Wenger is a legend and his three Premier League titles, seven FA Cups and incredible consistency in securing top four finishes will see his legacy remain intact (just about) despite a slight regression in recent years. The Europa League almost handed Wenger a chance for a fairytale ending to win a European trophy and qualify for the Champions League via the back door but Atletico Madrid ousted the Gunners in the semifinals. Whoever takes charge after Wenger will have a hugely talented but top heavy squad to work with as Mesut Ozil, Pierre-Emerick Auabmeyang and Alexander Lacazette are capable of scoring plenty of goals but Arsenal’s defensive deficiencies must be eradicated if they’re going to make up ground and finish in the top four. Intriguing times ahead.

Bournemouth: C+
Four-straight seasons in the Premier League should not be scoffed at but the Cherries spent big last summer and although they picked up some big results in the second half of the season to pull away from the relegation zone, Eddie Howe acknowledged they’ve slightly underachieved after a ninth-place finish in 2016-17. Josh King had a down year, so too did Jermaine Defoe after arriving on big money, while Asmir Begovic had some shaky displays in goal. That said, big wins against Arsenal and Chelsea showed what Bournemouth are capable of and the emergence of Nathan Ake and Lewis Cook proves they have a bright future and Howe’s philosophy of playing attractive, attacking soccer is well and truly intact. Howe may feel like next season may be his last at Bournemouth with some big jobs potentially coming up.

Watford: C
The Hornets were flying early on (just one defeat in their opening eight games had them in the top four) but Marco Silva‘s head was turned by an approach from Everton and that cost the Portuguese coach his job following a massive mid-season slump. New boss Javi Gracia did very well to steady the ship but a season that promised so much has petered out. Keeping hold of Richarlison and Abdoulaye Doucoure will be the main aim for Watford over the summer. A string of defeats late in the season suggests that Gracia could be on thin ice if Watford start next season sluggishly.

Southampton: D
After an almighty scare the Saints survived but this is a huge wake-up call for the South Coast club who had finished in the top eight in each of the past four seasons. Mauricio Pellegrino just didn’t work as manager as his defensive tactics frustrated fans and players alike and amid Virgil van Dijk’s midseason departure¬†Saints went on a run of just one win in 21 PL games and sunk into the relegation zone. Mark Hughes replaced Pellegrino with eight games to go and saved Saints with a fine end of season run which included wins against Bournemouth and Swansea. The talent level of their squad means this shouldn’t happen again (they drew more games than any other team during the season) but if Hughes is given the job full-time he needs to make quite a few changes to his playing squad, especially in central defense. Reaching the FA Cup semifinal was a bonus but staying up was a massive relief for fans. Saints’ new Chinese owners must spend big and redefine the direction of the club after years of selling their best players and letting managers such as Pochettino and Ronald Koeman leave.

Everton: D
Yes, the Toffees finished in the top 10 but this was a season which started with talk of pushing for the top four but soon turned sour with Koeman sacked in October. After huge sums of money were spent on the likes of Wayne Rooney, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Davy Klaassen, the balance of the squad just wasn’t right. Sam Allardyce came in to steady the ship and Everton were never really in a relegation battle from December onwards. That said, there is plenty of fan unrest as Big Sam’s direct style of play isn’t to the liking of Everton’s fans who have routinely booed him. Allardyce has another season on his contract and wants to stay, while Rooney could be off and there are plenty of question marks around the Toffees despite a top 10 finish. With a new stadium move on the horizon, Everton’s fans are hopeful they can get the right manager in but new owner Farhad Moshiri seems to be slowing down any progress by delaying a long-term plan. A season to forget for Everton.

West Ham United: D-
A season of struggle on and off the pitch for the Hammers has ended with Premier League safety but there are so many issues to resolve. Slaven Bilic was sacked after a poor start to the campaign and with fans protesting against owners David Sullivan, David Gold and Karen Brady (which culminated with the ugly pitch invasions at the London Stadium against Burnley) there is a nasty vibe brewing in East London. The move to their new London Stadium home has never worked for the Hammers faithful and despite David Moyes coming in and doing what was asked to keep them in the PL, there hasn’t been much to get excited about. Marko Arnautovic‘s arrival has been key with the Austrian striker superb in the second half of the season with bags of goals and assists. An uncertain future lies ahead.

Swansea City: F
Relegation from the Premier League has been coming for the Swans and it was confirmed after a seven-year stay. Paul Clement couldn’t build on the great escape he masterminded late in the 2016-17 campaign and selling both Sigurdsson and Fernando Llorente last summer was a huge sign of what was to come. The Swans looked dead and buried around the turn of the year when Carlos Carvalhal was surprisingly hired but the Portuguese coach had a great impact, at least initially, as they surged up the table. That impact soon wore off as they dropped back into the bottom three and their fate was all but sealed after a crushing 1-0 defeat at home to Southampton in the final week of the season. With Cardiff promoted back to the top-flight for next season Swansea are no longer the top dogs in Wales.

West Bromwich Albion: F
Well, where on earth do we start here? West Brom won their opening two games of the season, then didn’t win for another 21 games. Tony Pulis was fired amid fan unrest over the playing style and Alan Pardew was hired in a disastrous run which saw the Baggies win lose eight games on the spin amid the now infamous “Taxi Gate” taking center stage. Darren Moore took interim charge late in the season and West Brom almost saved themselves with stunning wins against Man United and Tottenham, but there was too much work to do and they were relegated. A squad of players who were solid under Pulis were asked to do something different and West Brom are a case of a club who tried to push the boundaries of what they were too quickly. They should be the favorites to be promoted back to the PL next season, especially if Salomon Rondon and Jay Rodriguez stick around. Boing, boing indeed.

Stoke City: F
Similar to West Brom, Stoke tried to reinvent their style of play but it was an awful campaign for the Potters who were relegated after a 10-year stay in the Premier League. Mark Hughes was fired in January and although Jack Butland (his tears after relegation was secured will be the enduring image of the season) did his best in goal, Stoke shed goals by the bucket load and had the worst defensive record in the Premier League. Xherdan Shaqiri did his best but Paul Lambert just didn’t inspire any confidence in his team, especially going forward, as they coughed up plenty of leads late on to seal their fate. Stoke’s fans are incredibly unhappy and given the poor recruitment decisions from the club (Saido Berahino, Jese and others) you can understand why. It may well be a long, hard struggle for Stoke to get back into the top-flight over the next few seasons.