Premier League Report Card

The Premier League season is now done and dusted following a dramatic finale on Sunday afternoon.

Manchester City are champions for the third season in a row, having been pushed pretty close by Arsenal, while Manchester United and Newcastle returned to the Champions League.


Liverpool, Brighton and Aston Villa will all be playing European football next season but it has been a calamitous nine months for Chelsea, who could only finish 12th.


At the bottom, Southampton, Leeds United and Leicester City will be playing Championship football next season, while Everton avoided relegation by the skin of their teeth on the last day.

Following the conclusion of the campaign, we assess all 20 clubs;


NOTTINGHAM FOREST Finished – 16th; 2021-22 finish – 4th (Championship)

There’s never a dull moment at the City Ground. What a bonkers season but the upshot is that Nottingham Forest will be a Premier League club next term against all odds.


The team that comes up via the play-offs is generally the favourite to drop straight back down but Forest tried to counter this by signing 22 new players last summer plus seven more in January.


That only created a major headache for manager Steve Cooper, who couldn’t possibly hope to know his strongest team but was expected to get results anyway. Cooper sailed close to the wind when it came to the sack but keeping faith in him proved a masterstroke as Forest secured their survival with a game to spare.


There were always going to be hits and misses. Jesse Lingard didn’t work out as a signing, but the likes of Morgan Gibbs-White, Danilo and Taiwo Awoniyi most certainly did.

Goodness knows what’ll happen this summer but it surely can’t be quite as madcap. Can it?


SOUTHAMPTON Finished – 20th (relegated); 2021-22 finish – 15th

An absolutely risible season of relegation that had probably been on the cards for some time.


If Southampton fans thought they’d bottomed out under Ralph Hasenhuttl in those opening weeks of the season, they were very sadly mistaken.

The Nathan Jones 14-match tenure was like a living nightmare and Ruben Selles presided over further abject failure despite winning two of his first three games.


Mohammed Salisu, Southampton

Finishing 11 points adrift of safety, Southampton were resigned to their grim fate very early on indeed and they really contributed precious little to the top-flight.


It’ll now fall to Russell Martin, who gained a positive reputation for his brand of football with Swansea, to try and gets Saints back into the Premier League at the first time of asking.


LEICESTER CITY Finished – 18th (relegated);  2021-22 finish – 8th

It really is astonishing to see Leicester in this position just seven years after they won the greatest of all Premier League titles and just two years after a famous FA Cup win.

They can certainly be accused of a kind of arrogance that they’d just remain a comfortable top-half club without having to renew and refresh. Their much-lauded owners took the eye off the ball and as things became stale under Brendan Rodgers, they waited too long to pull the trigger.

Leicester City players

That’s easy to say with hindsight with Dean Smith ultimately unable to pick up enough points in the final eight games to save their skins.

Too many players underachieved and underperformed but many of them will still be playing Premier League football next season as the carcass is picked post-relegation.

Bookmakers will have Leicester among the favourites to bounce straight back but the financial implications are huge.

LIVERPOOL Finished – 5th; 2021-22 finish – 2nd


At the beginning of the season, everybody expected Liverpool to be the only ones capable of properly challenging Manchester City in the title race.

They’ve fallen well short of that and finishing outside the top four will come as a crushing disappointment in what quickly became a transitional season for Jurgen Klopp.


Liverpool players

There were certainly some memorable scorelines, not least the 7-0 demolition of Manchester United and the 9-0 against Bournemouth, but the Reds looked weak and vulnerable too often.


They only really found their winning form towards the end, but it proved too little, too late to make the Champions League for next season. Unlike the season before, they also fell short in the cups.

Reinforcements will again be required this summer, especially in midfield, if Klopp wishes to construct another top class side. They’ll certainly come again.


MANCHESTER CITY Finished – 1st; 2021-22 finish – 1st


It has already been another truly outstanding season for Pep Guardiola’s City – but it could yet be historic.


Erling Haaland, Manchester City

A third consecutive Premier League title is in the bag – and it was achieved with a real swagger in the end as City ruthlessly clambered over a faltering Arsenal in the final weeks.


Add the FA Cup and the Champions League to win the Treble and Guardiola has a very strong claim to be the greatest ever. We all knew Erling Haaland would be good, but nobody expected him to be 52-goals-and-counting good. But it’s so much more than a one-man team with pretty much everyone excelling.


Who knows how much longer Guardiola will stick around in Manchester but the way his team continues to evolve, to push the boundaries and take the breath away is just phenomenal.


We can’t escape the fact these triumphs come with an asterisk following those Premier League charges but, for now, we are witnessing one of English football’s greatest-ever teams.


MANCHESTER UNITED Finished – 3rd; 2021-22 finish – 6th


A season of undoubted progress – especially if Erik ten Hag’s side can add the FA Cup to the Carabao Cup and a third-place finish, happily wrecking City’s Treble dreams in the process.


Erik ten Hag

The positives of the Dutchman’s first season in charge include ending that silverware wait after six years, making Old Trafford a fortress again, forging a brilliant midfield out of Casemiro, Christian Eriksen and Bruno Fernandes, and getting Marcus Rashford firing on all cylinders.


But equally, United also have a long road to travel yet before they can truly compete for the top honours as they used to.


There have been too many capitulations – City, Liverpool, Brentford, Sevilla to name but a few – and it’s clear two or three more top quality players are needed. A centre forward to reduce the goalscoring burden on Rashford is top priority.

The protracted takeover saga also hangs over Old Trafford, making long-term planning very difficult.


But Ten Hag, whose jettisoning of Cristiano Ronaldo seems a very long time ago now, finally has the club moving in the right direction.


NEWCASTLE UNITED Finished – 4th; 2021-22 finish – 11th

What a joyous season it’s been on Tyneside with Champions League football secured for the first time in two decades.


Newcastle players

It is very easy to forget the Toon were fighting for their Premier League lives when the Saudis and Eddie Howe came in the autumn of 2021.

Their rapid progress owes so much to Howe, whose appointment has been inspired. He has, quite simply, improved all of the players in his squad and made Newcastle darn tough to play against.


Of course there has been money to spend – not that it’s been anywhere near what some predicted when the takeover happened – but you still feel this project is running well ahead of schedule.


Newcastle have smashed the ‘big six’ apart and are clearly here to stay, with their day out at Wembley for the Carabao Cup final a nice bonus despite defeat.

Those Champions League nights at St James’ Park will be cherished by a long-suffering support next season but it should be just the start for a club whose trajectory is now very much upwards.


TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR Finished – 8th; 2021-22 finish – 4th

What a grim season down on White Hart Lane. Missing out on Europe and falling short in every competition was probably always written in the stars for Spurs this season.


Harry Kane

Antonio Conte was never really a good fit and inevitably everything blew up with that rant of home truths after the draw at Southampton – every one of which had merit.


The hapless Cristian Stellini and then Ryan Mason tried to salvage something from the season but Tottenham were worthy of their lowly eighth-place finish, a woeful regression. It’s frightening to think where they’d have finished without Harry Kane, who somehow scored 32 times in a team that put in sub-standard performances most weeks.


With Kane surely leaving over the summer, the Spurs job becomes even more unattractive without European football and there’s definitely a sense of deja-vu from two years back when it comes to their calamitous manager search.

With the fans raging against Daniel Levy, whoever accepts this most depressing of missions had better be a miracle-worker.


WEST HAM UNITED Finished – 14th; 2021-22 finish – 7th

West Ham’s achievement in reaching a first European final since 1976 should not disguise the fact they looked doomed for the drop for large chunks of the season.


Declan Rice, West Ham

The supporters wanted David Moyes out not so long ago but that obviously isn’t going to happen if they beat Fiorentina to win the Europa Conference League next week.


Moyes looked short of fresh ideas at times but they got the results they needed in the pressure games to secure survival while maintaining a European run they could easily have sacked off. Lifting that trophy would be a superb way for Declan Rice to sign off and the Hammers must invest what money they get for him wisely.


Having spent £160m last summer, there’s surely more to come from Lucas Paqueta and Gianluca Scamacca, who has been plagued by injury. They can’t struggle as badly again, surely?


WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS Finished – 13th; 2021-22 finish – 10th


One of the transformations of the season by Julen Lopetegui at Molineux. Wolves looked doomed to relegation after registering just one win in their opening 10 games.


Julen Lopetegui and Lemina

Once Bruno Lage was axed, things didn’t exactly improve when Steve Davis was in caretaker charge. But fortunes changed when Lopetegui got down to work after the World Cup. Against all expectations, safety was secured with three games to spare and nobody expected that.


Ruben Neves rose to the occasion in many crunch games but Wolves will do well to keep him with Barcelona sniffing around. There’s plenty of speculation around the manager, too.


Whoever is in charge, serious squad investment to build on the significant January buys will be needed to avoid such a relegation scare again.


ASTON VILLA Finished – 7th; 2021-22 finish – 14th

How very different it could have been. It seems an eternity ago now but Villa started the season disastrously under Steven Gerrard and could easily have been bound for relegation.

The easy option would have been to appoint a firefighter or safe pair of hands to make absolutely sure they didn’t go down. But they went for Unai Emery and expectations have been smashed. To qualify for Europe for the first time in 13 years by beating Brighton on the final day was the icing on the cake of an astonishing transformation.

Emery got a new lease of life out of the likes of Tyrone Mings and John McGinn, while Ollie Watkins and Douglas Luiz have been brilliant.

Having been through so much stress in recent seasons, you sense Villa fans will genuinely enjoy the Europa Conference League. As for Emery, he’ll insist he’s only just getting started.

Aston Villa players

BRIGHTON Finished – 6th; 2021-22 finish – 9th

Graham who? Any fears Brighton would regress rapidly when Potter was spirited away to Chelsea back in September have been made to look silly.

Brighton fans who thought it couldn’t get any better following their 9th place finish last season were mistaken as Roberto De Zerbi’s fire and brimstone took them into the Europa League.

Even Pep Guardiola has hailed the Italian’s brand of football and De Zerbi’s passion has energised the entire club and the city. They were also a penalty kick away from the FA Cup final.

Brighton’s first priority is to ensure De Zerbi doesn’t go anywhere, then they’ll need to find replacements for Alexis Mac Allister and Moises Caicedo if they leave, as expected.

But they’ve become adept at finding stars out of nowhere and the good times just keep on rolling at the Amex. Their European adventure will be very much relished by the fans.

Brighton players

BOURNEMOUTH Finished – 15th;  2021-22 finish – 2nd (Championship)

It has been one of those seasons that seems to have gone on for so long – having been punctuated by the World Cup – that you forget certain things did actually happen this season.

One of them was the 9-0 pasting Bournemouth took at Liverpool back on August 27, a result that led to Scott Parker being shown the door just three months after guiding the Cherries to promotion.

At that point, Bournemouth had conceded 16 goals in four games and looked on to not only go straight back down but potentially set a few unwanted records too. Even under their saviour Gary O’Neil, there were many moments when they looked Championship-bound but ultimately Bournemouth survived pretty comfortably.

O’Neil deserves immense credit for that achievement, extracting the maximum from his players while embarking on his own personal learning curve in an unforgiving first managerial job.

Bournemouth survived and that was the primary objective – but it won’t get any easier.

Gary O’Neil, Bournemouth


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