Some people believe the 2015-16 Premier League season was one of the greatest in history. In truth, it was one of the worst in terms of quality but the fairytale story which followed Leicester City to being crowned the league champions has been one of the greatest achievements in the history of English football. Nothing would surpass the highlight of the Foxes lifting the Premier League trophy but there’s been plenty of let downs, big money transfers, manager sackings and unexpected highlights throughout the season. Here’s a summary of what we can look back on during the 2015-16 season and a small glimpse of what to expect next year.
The disappearance of the ‘big four’
Leicester City’s rise to success was paralleled with Chelsea’s fall from grace. Last year’s Premier League champions had a season to forget as Jose Mourinho’s vow to build a team and create a ten-year dynasty at Chelsea collapsed dramatically. The ‘Special One’ was sacked just seven months after bringing the Premier League trophy back to Stamford Bridge as Roman Abramovich waved goodbye after his side won just four league games in their first 16 matches. Chelsea battled at the depths of the table, fighting within the relegation zone at Christmas but managed to scrape a tenth place finish despite a disastrous season.
Chelsea’s position in the top four was lost and Leicester gained a Champions League place but Manchester United had to settle for a Europa League spot as their season was another disappointing one under Louis Van Gaal. Arsenal, who characteristically dropped points in the second half of the season, somehow finished above Tottenham after Spurs spent most of the campaign in a battle for the title with Leicester. Manchester City edged a top four finish but it was far from convincing and West Ham and Southampton pushed the Manchester clubs to the test throughout the season. Liverpool had yet another poor Premier League season, finishing in 8th place and Everton’s finish outside the top ten led to Roberto Martinez’ sacking.
All-in-all, the ‘big top four’ of Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal all had disappointing seasons and it was Tottenham and Leicester City who grabbed all the headlines. Two of those clubs will have new managers next season (Chelsea and Manchester City) and Manchester United and Arsenal could also wave goodbye to their bosses with ongoing speculation over their futures mounting. It’s a new era in the Premier League and there’s no longer such dominance at the top of the table.
Manager’s survival and defeats
Brendan Rodgers and Jose Mourinho were this season’s biggest casualties with the former Liverpool boss lasting just eight games. All the talk in October was about Jurgen Klopp’s arrival and Anfield was sent into a frenzy of ‘Kloppmania’ before calming down at Christmas. The Premier League waved goodbye to the ‘Special One’ in December and Guus Hiddink arrived as a temporary manager.
The biggest speculation has surrounded Louis Van Gaal’s position at Manchester United and since December it’s been a game of ‘will he or won’t he’ regarding his departure but the Dutchman is still there. The second half of the season saw Everton fans turn their back on Roberto Martinez and he was one of the most recent victims after his side finished outside of the top ten for the first time in ten years.
Aston Villa fans had a tough season and the club have a lot to make up for next season after a disastrous year. It was reflected in their sackings of Tim Sherwood and Remi Garde as managers. Protests and walk-outs contributed to the announcement that Randy Lerner would be selling the club to Chinese billionaire, Tony Xia.
Sam Allardyce replaced Dick Advocaat at Sunderland in October and kept the Black Cats in the Premier League. Gary Monk was sacked by Swansea and replaced with Francesco Guidolin with success also. Newcastle weren’t as swift to act though and paid the price, bringing in former Real Madrid, Chelsea and Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez in March but Steve McClaren had already done the damage and the Magpies were doomed to relegation.
Watford’s Quique Sanchez Florez is set to leave in the summer despite taking the club to the FA Cup semi-final and securing them safety in the Premier League. Manuel Pellegrini suffered equally ruthless treatment in February when Manchester City announced Pep Guardiola would be managing the Blues next season but Pellegrini did himself justice, guiding City to the Champions League semi-finals. Arsene Wenger has clung on for another season as he helped Arsenal secure a runners-up position without delivering any silverware but there’s a feeling that if he is going to get the sack, now would be the time.
It’s easy to make this all about Leicester City whose rise from the depths of English football to the heights of the Premier League has been something of a Shakespeare romance. Andy King and co were battling it out in League One in 2009 and now they’re wearing Premier League winners medals around their necks as they produced some of the most enthralling football the league’s seen in recent years. Jamie Vardy, who scored 24 goals and Riyad Mahrez, who netted on 17 occasions and was named the PFA Player of the Year, were at the heart of Leicester’s success and cost the club just £1.4m. Claudio Raneiri, the ‘Tinkerman’ who was once written off and sniggered at by Chelsea, reformed a side who fought against relegation last season into one of the most creative and exciting teams in England.
Bournemouth, who joined the Premier League for the first time in the club’s history this season, finished in 16th position as Eddie Howe continued to impress with his coaching skills. Despite a disappointing end to the season with defeat at Old Trafford in the final game of the campaign, Bournemouth produced historic victories over Manchester United (December) and West Ham (August) and draws against Leicester City and Everton during the 2015-16 season.
Watford also produced their highest ever finish in the Premier League (13th) and reached the FA Cup semi-final. Their opponents at Wembley were Crystal Palace who have an FA Cup final against Manchester United lined up after finishing in 15th place in the league. Stoke City finished in ninth position for a third consecutive season after Mark Hughes’ side produced some great performances in the second half of the season. Their Capital One Cup semi-final penalty defeat to Liverpool halted what would’ve been a true highlight of their season but all-in-all, their Chairman Peter Coates seems pretty pleased. Southampton and Tottenham also recorded their best ever league finishes, sixth and third respectively, but Spurs were left disappointed in the end, with the title within their grasp for the most part of the season.
Unfortunately, the list of underachievers outweighs the success of those who overachieved. Most notably was Chelsea’s fall under Jose Mourinho. The Blues managed to finish in tenth place after threatening to achieve relegation after New Year but they’ll need a serious re-grouping throughout the summer. Arsenal fans were left with nothing to celebrate again as the Gunners finished yet another season empty handed. Manchester City’s form in the league was inconsistent and despite a Champions League semi-final, a Carling Cup victory and a fifth round FA Cup defeat to Chelsea, it’s been a disappointing season for the Blues who consider themselves a team capable of winning the league.
Overall, it’s been an up and down season for Manchester United who secured a European place after finishing fifth in the league and they have an FA Cup final to contest for before the season finishes. However, for such a big club demanding Champions League football, United’s failure to achieve a top four finish will be crushing for fans and Louis Van Gaal has failed to inspire his team this season. Similarly, Everton have had a year to forget under Martinez. Despite making it to the FA Cup semi-final, the Merseysiders have been poor for most of the year and paid the price, finishing outside the top ten for the first time since 2006. Not only has their manager been sacked, but they were victims of a humiliating thrashing at Anfield a few weeks ago in the Merseyside derby and their star players, Romelu Lukaku and John Stones, look set to leave in the summer.
Aston Villa and Newcastle United’s relegation were heavily criticised by fans who accused their clubs of ‘welcoming’ the chop after reluctancy to make changes doomed them to failure. Swansea and Sunderland both had disappointing seasons but regained some kind of form in the second half of the season to secure their positions in the Premier League for another year and they’ll be hoping to re-group in the summer.
Read more about European success, England hopefuls, transfer failings and summer preparations in Part Two shortly.