2016-2017: Conte provides the magic touch
|Champions||Chelsea||Biggest Win||Hull City 1-7 Tottenham Hotspur|
|Runners-Up||Tottenham Hotspur||Highest Scoring Game||Swansea City 5-4 Crystal Palace|
|Third Place||Manchester City||Top Goalscorer||Harry Kane (29)|
|Relegated||Hull City, Middlesbrough, Sunderland||Goals Scored||1064|
After Leicester City’s title shock in 2015-2016, the 2016-2017 season was about the return to the summit for a former title winner. Chelsea had spectacularly flopped in their title defence. This time around, they were not going to take any prisoners.
The Blues’ hired Antonio Conte as their new manager and he managed to prize N’Golo Kante away from the new champions. Conte’s aim was to play with a preferred back-three system which he had cultured in his Serie A days with Juventus. However, he gave the back-four formation a chance to prove him wrong.
Back-to-back defeats in September to Liverpool FC and Arsenal signalled the time to tweak the tactics. Chelsea were sitting eighth after those losses and eight points off the pace. Conte made the change in system and the rest was history. The west Londoners became a winning steamroller, clocking off 13 successive victories to equal a Premier League record set by Arsenal during the 2001-2002 double-winning season.
Only a Dele Alli double in early January denied Chelsea taking the record but it was clear Conte had the magic touch. Kante cleaned up on the individual awards, Eden Hazard was back to his best after his anonymous 2015-2016 season, David Luiz returned and was a radical improvement on the Mark I version and Diego Costa looked happy again, scoring 20 goals despite rumours of a switch to the Chinese Super League in January. There was a brief wobble in April with defeats to Crystal Palace and Manchester United but whenever a question was asked of Chelsea, they often answered it with flying colours.
They took the title with a 1-0 victory away to West Bromwich Albion with two matches left to play. Michy Batshuayi scored the title-winning goal. It was a fitting end to John Terry’s Chelsea career. Now only a backup player, the captain said a tearful goodbye on the final day of the season and has dropped out of the Premier League altogether to help Aston Villa regain their top-flight status in the Championship. Conte also allowed Oscar, John Obi Mikel and Branislav Ivanovic to leave during the campaign.
For the second successive season, the nearest challenge to the champions came from Tottenham Hotspur. Tottenham ended with the highest goals tally, the best defence, an unbeaten home record, a highest Premier League points tally and another Golden Boot award for Harry Kane. They were a joy to watch all season and finished gallant runners-up to Chelsea. This was their farewell season too at the current White Hart Lane ground. Redevelopment work means Tottenham will play at Wembley Stadium during the 2017-2018 campaign before moving back to the site that will look quite different from when they left.
To continue the theme, the reigning champions had a mare. Whilst Leicester City were never going to repeat the fairytale of their title success, they came perilously close to being the first champions to be relegated the following season. The team spirit that had been so prevalent the previous campaign was evidently missing this time around. Claudio Ranieri was sacked in February, much to the condemnation of the football world. Craig Shakespeare eventually guided the club to safety and a 12th-place finish plus a quarter-final berth in the UEFA Champions League. Shakespeare now has the job full-time but the Leicester dream was now over.
After his sacking by Chelsea, Jose Mourinho had a point to prove as new manager of Manchester United. The Red Devils’ broke the world transfer record to sign Paul Pogba and they also acquired the services of Zlatan Ibrahimovic on a one-year contract. Ibrahimovic would score the league’s 25,000th goal in November during a match with Swansea City. Mourinho would spearhead the club to a League Cup victory, followed by an emotional Europa League success just 48 hours after the bombing of Manchester Arena following an Ariana Grande concert. United are back in the Champions League through that success but finished a distant sixth in the Premier League.
They were beaten in the final table by Manchester City, Liverpool FC and Arsenal. City won their first six matches but once again fell off the pace as the season entered the autumn/winter months. Although they came third, Pep Guardiola’s first season was underwhelming and he failed to win any silverware for the first time in his managerial career. Liverpool’s season was a success; despite some surprising defeats to the likes of Burnley, Hull City and Swansea City. A final day victory over Middlesbrough ensured they would be back in Europe’s elite. That was at the expense of Arsenal, who missed out on Champions League football for the first time in 20 years. Arsene Wenger came under severe pressure from the fans after a string of dire performances but an FA Cup final victory in May was enough to persuade the Frenchman to sign a two-year contract extension.
At the bottom, time finally ran out on Sunderland. David Moyes returned to English football management after the FA appointed Sam Allardyce as Roy Hodgson’s successor following the shock exit to Iceland at Euro 2016. Moyes looked a broken man from the season’s start. The Black Cats went down with a whimper in late April and only the goals of Jermain Defoe ensured it wasn’t an even quicker relegation. With his reputation destroyed by his three most recent appointments, Moyes quit after the season’s end and looks consigned to the managerial scrapheap.
Middlesbrough and Hull City made instant returns to the Championship but Sean Dyche guided Burnley to survival for the first time in the Premier League whilst Paul Clement did a remarkable job at Swansea City. Bottom going into 2017, he spearheaded the Swans’ to victories in four of their last five matches to keep them as a Premier League club.
Antonio Conte’s vision and swagger ensured Chelsea became champions for the fifth time in the Premier League era. Only Manchester United have been more successful.
It has been a fantastic first 25 years of Premier League football and here’s to the next 25 years!