Real Madrid might just be pretty soft… off the field.
Easy, Madridistas. We’re simply talking about the strongly-worded condemnation of Mauricio Pochettino‘s Friday comments about Real’s training grounds.
The Tottenham Hotspur boss, seemingly joking, claimed that Real chairman Florentino Perez would not let Spurs stay at their training ground ahead of the UEFA Champions League Final against Liverpool unless he signed a deal to manage the Madrid club, saying, “I asked Florentino to let us sleep in the sports centre, but he did not want to let us have the facilities.”
From reading the comments, it’d be hard to believe he was being serious (especially with Zinedine Zidane a club legend and squarely in charge). But either the public was legit enraged by Poch’s quip, or Real is very soft. Perez’s club released this strongly worded statement regarding whether it was ever asked to allow Spurs or Liverpool to stay on the club’s grounds. From RealMadrid.com:
Real Madrid CF also wants to emphasize that the accommodation of the finalist teams of the Champions League are assigned by UEFA following criteria of organization and security. And that at no time has our club been requested that these teams could be accommodated in the facilities of Ciudad Real Madrid.
Sometimes it’s better to just stay silent and roll with the punches, Mr. Perez.
Perhaps his best tune would be best accompanied by a version of The Robot dance.
“I always thought Mike Riley was a manufactured referee from day one,” Warnock said after a loss to Chelsea. “I don’t think he’s changed since then. He’s been coached, manufactured, almost like a robot. He knows everything about the rules, but I feel these people struggle to understand the game and the human element. A lot of referees are like Mike Riley and that’s why I think we have gone backwards. Common sense is not allowed nowadays, but the best refs still use it.”
Arsenal finished below Tottenham Hotspur on the table, but the Gunners sent a message that they were up for the fight with a thrilling 4-2 win over Spurs on Dec. 1.
It had everything, including Mike Dean calling penalties for both sides. Arsenal outshot Spurs 22-11, and the teams combined for 13 shots on target. And the Gunners trailed 2-1 at the break!
Most importantly for the Gunners, it was a victory over their hated rivals which ran their unbeaten mark to 19 matches.
7. Wolves howl into contention with first upset
Nuno Espirito Santo‘s Wolverhampton Wanderers became giant killers for the first time when they ended a six-match dry spell by using a second-half burst to beat Chelsea 2-1.
The win was typical of Wolves’ best days, as Raul Jimenez and Diogo Jota were the goal scorers. On the season, the newly-promoted Wolves beat Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs, and Manchester United, drawing the Blues, Gunners, and Red Devils as well en route to a possible Europa League berth.
6. Mourinho’s “respect” rant
Manchester United had just lost 3-0 to Spurs at Old Trafford, but that’s not the three Jose Mourinho wanted to discuss in his post-match media briefing.
“Three-nil. Do you know what that also means? Three Premiership titles, and I also won more titles than the other 19 managers combined.”
Cardiff City’s joy at the record purchase of Nantes striker Emiliano Sala soon turned to sickening grief when the Argentine’s plane was lost at sea. His body was recovered from the wreckage a few days later.
4. Pickford error gives Origi, Liverpool the derby
Everton supporters don’t need to be reminded that Liverpool had two moments of good fortune for every bit of bad luck in a run to second on the Premier League table. Jordan Pickford lost track of the ball in stoppage time to deny the Toffees a memorable point against their despised cross-town Reds.
Let’s set the scene: Unbeaten Liverpool has a chance to put Man City in its rear view mirror at the Etihad Stadium when Sadio Mane beats the keeper and hits the post. City center back John Stones‘ effort to clear the ball hits his keeper Ederson, and the Englishman does this en route to City’s 2-1 defeat of the Reds.
High marks for: Keeping Newcastle in the PL and finishing 13th, with one of the league’s smaller wage bills, by beating the teams they needed to beat (eight of 12 victories came against teams that finished below them) | Low marks for: Going winless in the first 10 games of the season
Final thoughts: Newcastle could be a perennial top-half side, if only owner Mike Ashley would either 1) back his manager, or 2) sell the club. Benitez is far and away the brightest manager Newcastle could hope to attract and he continues to deliver above realistic expectations.
Dyche, Sean (Burnley) — C-
High marks for: Finding three teams to be worse than Burnley; going eight games unbeaten to start 2019 | Low marks for: Six losing skids of three games or more (two that lasted four games)
Final thoughts: This is Burnley’s level — scraping and clawing a few points clear of relegation — rather than last season’s 7th-place finish.
Emery, Unai (Arsenal) — C+
High marks for: Going 14 games unbeaten after losing twice to start the season | Low marks for: Failing to finish in the top-four, despite Tottenham and Chelsea falling apart down the stretch
Final thoughts: Emery’s first season following in the footsteps of Arsene Wenger could have gone better, but it could have gone worse. The more distance Emery puts between Wenger and present day, the easier the job will get. He sorely needs to win the Europa League to build a squad capable of returning to the top-four.
Espirito Santo, Nuno (Wolverhampton Wanderers) — A
High marks for: Leading a newly promoted team to a 7th-place finish, while playing an entertaining style of soccer | Low marks for: N/A
Final thoughts: If this is as good as it ever gets for Wolves, let’s all choose to remember Espirito Santo’s time at the club for what he did this season, not for how it might all come crashing down around him in future seasons. Sure, Wolves spent on par with the PL’s biggest clubs. Then again, Fulham outspent Wolves by $42 million last summer and finished 19th.
Gracia, Javi (Watford) — B-
High marks for: Taking Watford another step forward, up to 11th, in his first full season in charge after they narrowly avoided relegation two seasons ago and progressed to 14th last season | Low marks for: Once Watford were mathematically safe, their form fell off a cliff and they took a bit of a tumble down the table
Final thoughts: There was a time this season when Watford looked like they might be the surprise 7th-place finishers, then they lost six of their last nine games but still only finished seven points back of Wolves.
Guardiola, Pep (Manchester City) — A+
High marks for: Winning the title, for a second straight season, by winning 14 straight games to finish the season; needing 98 points to win the title, and getting 98 points; winning the title with Kevin De Bruyne, his best player last season, playing just 19 games | Low marks for: N/A
Final thoughts: If there were any remaining questions about Guadiola’s suitability to the PL, they have been answered by winning 198 points over two seasons. Whatever he chooses to do next, he will do it well.
Hasenhuttl, Ralph (Southampton) — B
High marks for: Taking over a bottom-three team right before Christmas and keeping them in the PL | Low marks for: N/A
Final thoughts: Saints had won just once in 15 games before Hasenhuttl was appointed, which means they won eight times in their final 23 games — a massive improvement, though it would have been very difficult to replicate Mark Hughes‘ record. A 3W-3D-3L run to finish the season was 1) enough to keep them in the PL, but more importantly 2) provided the only period of consistency all season.
Hodgson, Roy (Crystal Palace) — C
High marks for: Overcoming a truly horrific start to the season (just three wins from Palace’s first 16 games) to finish 15 points clear of relegation| Low marks for: Overseeing the truly horrific start to the season
Final thoughts: Hodgson deserves tons of credit for keeping the team onside when things were looking terribly bleak (16th place, one point clear of relegation after 16 games), but he deserves just as much blame for being in that position in the first place. In the end, he’ll have a job for life if he can deliver 12th-place finishes to Palace year after year.
Howe, Eddie (Bournemouth) — C+
High marks for: Winning six of their first 10 games and propelling Bournemouth into the conversation for a top-half finish | Low marks for: Losing 17 of the next 28 games and sinking to a 14th-place finish
Final thoughts: If not for a strong start to the season (20 points from their first 10 games, where might the Cherries have wound up? In the end, though, expecting too terribly much more out of a club with the budget of Bournemouth would be wildly unrealistic.
Hughton, Chris (Brighton & Hove Albion) — C-
High marks for: Doing enough — just enough — to keep Brighton in the PL | Low marks for: Finishing 17th, two points clear of relegation, and getting fired
Final thoughts: Hughton’s four-and-a-half-year tenure at Brighton will forever be remembered fondly, as he was the one who took them to the PL, kept them their for a second season, and secured a third season as well. That said, he might have taken the club as far as he could, making this summer the right time for a change.
Klopp, Jurgen (Liverpool) — A+
High marks for: Improving Liverpool by 22 points from one season to the next (they were 24 points better in relation to Man City); setting up a young Liverpool side for what should be a decade of title challenges | Low marks for: Liverpool had a seven-point lead on Jan. 13, but Man City took the lead for good on March 3 and never looked back
Final thoughts: What more could Klopp and Co., have done? 97 points would have won the title in all but two seasons in PL history: last season and this season, because of 198-point Man City.
Parker, Scott (Fulham) — Incomplete
High marks for: Snapping Fulham’s nine-game losing streak (five of which he was in charge of) by winning three straight | Low marks for: Losing those five games by a combined score of 13-4
Final thoughts: Fulham were already all but gone (10 points back of 17th, with just 10 games left to play) when Parker was appointed. Fulham lost his first five games in charge, then won three, then lost their last two. Let’s wait and see what the first-time boss can do in the EFL Championship.
Pellegrini, Manuel (West Ham United) — C
High marks for: The run of just three defeats in 13 games from mid-September to mid-December | Low marks for: The four games — four losses — with preceded the aforementioned 13-game run and had some wondering whether Pellegrini would survive his first season month in charge
Final thoughts: On paper, Pellegrini had a very strong squad with which to work. In practice, it was heavily skewed toward the attacking half of the field, and nothing could be a worse fit for his preferred style. Part of that is on him as he needs to adapt, and part of that is on the executives who hired him and assembled his squad.
Pochettino, Mauricio (Tottenham Hotspur) — A-
High marks for: Overcoming all of the self-imposed obstacles to limp across the finish line in fourth; reaching the Champions League final | Low marks for: Not walking into chairman Daniel Levy’s office and demanding he sign a player
Final thoughts: Name a manager who did more with less this season. Pochettino finished last season with an already-thin, injury-plagued squad. In the summer, Spurs signed not a single player. In January, Spurs signed not a single player. In January, Spurs, a team with hardly a central midfielder on the roster, sold one of their most influential players and midfielders, Mousa Dembele, in the name of recouping a whole $14 million. Yet, Pochettino pieced together lineups and gameplans nearly every time out that gave Spurs a chance to pick up points, and they did so more often than not until the final few weeks.
Rodgers, Brendan (Leicester City) — Incomplete
High marks for: Winning four of his first five games in charge while conceding multiple goals just once (the Foxes had conceded 11 goals in the five games pre-Rodgers) | Low marks for: N/A
Final thoughts: Much like Newcastle, Rodgers might be the height of who Leicester could realistically attract. If he’s committed to sticking around for the long haul, rather than using Leicester as a stepping stone, it seems like a match made in heaven and a long tenure, with plenty more top-half finishes, could very well be on the cards.
Sarri, Maurizio (Chelsea) — B-
High marks for: Getting Chelsea back in the Champions League next season and finishing 3rd despite significant struggles in his first season in the PL | Low marks for: His downright refusal to adapt his tactics for such a long period when it was all beginning to unravel and the fans were turning against him
Final thoughts: Eden Hazard papered over a lot of cracks for Sarri this season. If he’s not around to do the same next season, it probably won’t be Sarri we’re grading this time next year.
Siewert, Jan (Huddersfield Town) — Incomplete
High marks for: N/A | Low marks for: Losing 12 of the 15 games of which he was in charge
Final thoughts: Like Fulham, Huddersfield were already long gone (10 points off 17th with 15 games left) by the time they made a change, so bringing in Siewert was purely about planning for next season. A few more non-loss results would have been nice, though.
Silva, Marco (Everton) — B-
High marks for: Starting (just two defeats from Everton’s first nine games) and finishing (five wins from their last eight games) the season strongly | Low marks for: Disappearing from December to February (nine losses in 14 games) and (maybe) almost getting fired
Final thoughts: He is clearly the most talented and ambitious manager Everton have had in a long time, and that’ll show through even more so after a second summer of transfers to build a squad that better fits his style (e.g., younger, more mobile defenders).
Solskjaer, Ole Gunnar (Manchester United) — C
High marks for: The lengthy honeymoon period (12 games unbeaten, including 10 wins) after he was appointed; liberating Man United fans from Jose Mourinho | Low marks for: The dismal run-in (just two wins from their final eight games, including four defeats) after he was given the job on a permanent basis
Final thoughts: Did Man United really have to remove the interim tag when they did? Are they sure the guy who got fired by Cardiff, in the only top-level job of his career, is the right guy to take on a complete squad rebuild?
Warnock, Neil (Cardiff City) — D+
High marks for: Giving Cardiff a real shot at avoiding relegation, until the final two or three weeks of the season, despite the emotional hardship they faced when club-record signing Emiliano Sala died before he played a game | Low marks for: Being relegated; winning back-to-back games just once all season
Final thoughts: Warnock is expected to remain in his position next season, which makes all the sense in the world considering Cardiff will be seeking another promotion back to the PL.
Finishing position/points total: 5th / 70 points High point: Beating Tottenham back in December might be the greatest single accomplishment of Arsenal’s season, which says a lot about where the club is today.
Low point: Three straight defeats — to Crystal Palace, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Leicester City, by a combined score of 9-3 — at the same time Tottenham were tripping over their own feet and leaving the door wide open for a top-four heist.
Our opinion: Arsene Wenger left, but did anything really change around the Emirates Stadium?
Star player: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Most memorable goal: The goal that wasn’t — Aubameyang’s 91st-minute penalty kick against Spurs — was one of many moments that wound up being the difference between fourth and fifth.
Manager grade: Unai Emery: C+
Hopes for next season: In a perfect world for Arsenal, Spurs won’t sign a player for the third straight transfer window and Arsenal will have signed a soon-to-be world-class replacement for the departed Aaron Ramsey, at which point Arsenal could accidentally finish above Spurs for the first time in four seasons.
Finishing position/points total: 4th / 71 points
High point: Reaching the Champions League final is the obvious answer, but we’re only talking about the PL here. Finishing the season’s last game with 11 upright players was quite the accomplishment given Spurs’ season-long injury crisis.
Low point: Predictably, a club that signed no new players in the summer, and is still competing in the Champions League, ran out of gas down the stretch. Spurs won just three of the final 12 games, while losing seven.
Our opinion: Mauricio Pochettino has proven himself to a miracle worker year after year, and he deserves better from chairman Daniel Levy.
Star player: Harry Kane
Most memorable goal: Son Heung-min didn’t score his first PL goal until the end of November, but it was worth the wait and kicked off a brilliant second half of the season for the South Korean.
Manager grade: Mauricio Pochettino: A-
Hopes for next season: If Spurs sign some players in the summer — hardly a given — the existing core has yet another level (or two) to reach. They’re as likely as anyone else to solidify their place as the third-best side in the PL.
Finishing position/points total: 3rd/ 72 points
High point: Starting the season unbeaten in their first 12 games, though in hindsight the early-days discussion of a three-horse race for the title was premature and misguided.
Low point: Losing 3-1 to Spurs to break the unbeaten start was bad, but losing 6-0 to Man City (just days before losing in the League Cup final to them) was worse.
Our opinion: For a team with just one capable midfielder (N'Golo Kante) for the vast majority of the season (Ruben Loftus-Cheek came on strong once given a chance to play), finishing third almost seems like an overachievement.
Star player: Eden Hazard
Most memorable goal: Hazard is irreplaceable, which Chelsea will quickly find out if he leaves this summer.
Manager grade: Maurizio Sarri: B-
Hopes for next season: If Hazard can be convinced to stay another season — until the transfer ban has passed — they’ll scrap for a top-four place again. If he leaves and Christian Pulisic is the only player they can register, it could be a long season.
Finishing position/points total: 2nd / 97 points
High point: How about the 30 games that they won? Or, the 37 games that they didn’t lose?
Low point: The lone league defeat, to Manchester City at the start of January, comes to mind.
Our opinion: Finishing with 97 points is bafflingly impressive, but conceding just 22 goals in 38 games is equally impressive. To match Man City step for step all season was something not many thought the Reds could do. 97 points would have won the title in all but two seasons — last season and this season.
Star player: Virgil Van Dijk
Most memorable goal: You’ll notice it doesn’t say “best” or “favorite” goal. Divock Origi‘s 96th-minute winner was stranger than anything else.
Manager grade: Jurgen Klopp: A+
Hopes for next season: They’re still young and awaiting breakout seasons from Naby Keita and Fabinho. If either of those players ascend to PL stardom next season, they could very well end City’s run.
Finishing position/points total: 1st / 98 points
High point: Leroy Sane’s game-winning goal to top Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium. Without it, Liverpool might have never lost the lead in the title race.
Low point: Losing three of four games during the December holiday period to fall seven points behind Liverpool.
Our opinion: The team that broke ever conceivable PL record last season, then went out and signed a player of Riyad Mahrez‘s ability, bordered on unbeatable once again. Though slightly more defensively fragile this season, Pep Guardiola‘s men are worthy champions.
Star player: Raheem Sterling
Most memorable goal: Vincent Kompany‘s winner against Leicester City in the penultimate game of the season, with Liverpool two points ahead after playing earlier in the weekend. He’ll never ever score another one like it.
Manager grade: Pep Guardiola: A+
Hopes for next season: Newsflash: They’re going to be good again, and again, and again. Here’s hoping for another brilliant title race between City and Liverpool, one with even more many twists and turns.