From champions Liverpool to basement side Norwich, Charlie Nicholas gives us his grades for the 2019/20 Premier League season
Tuesday 28 July 2020 22:04, UK
Who could have done better? Who's in freefall? Who has been the pick of the restart? Charlie Nicholas assesses every Premier League club's season...
They finished eighth, but it'll jump up to a C if they win the FA Cup, that's the nature of winning things. It's not Mikel Arteta's fault, it's a club that have been in freefall and haven't fixed things in six years.
They finished eighth because they only won 14 games - that's the lowest I can recall in the Premier League era. I could probably look back while Arteta has come in and say why am I giving them a D?
But I have to take it as a whole season. He's made it better. I'm not a great man for stats, and his stats have not been great, but I think as Arsenal people we want to see progress and we are.
There's been too many draws, I look at Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang - his goals have been great, both goalkeepers have been good, and other than that, I'm looking at Bukayo Saka? But no other players of real substance.
They survived! All they were interested in this season was staying up, especially after the lockdown. At the start of the season people might have said they brought in 12 or 13 players, so they would be expecting a mid-table finish, but the agenda when you get up is to survive, then you try to stabilise.
That was reached, people can pinpoint Watford's failures, Bournemouth's failures, but Aston Villa can only look after themselves.
Perhaps they should have been higher, Jack Grealish is an outstanding talent and John McGinn started well but faded through injury, but there's very few players who impressed for Aston Villa. They didn't really show a togetherness, a style we could identify with, it was about survival.
I watched them against Everton on the last day, they played really well and I thought where have you been? Why have you not turned up? What have you not done, Eddie Howe, that's been different? I don't think he could pinpoint one thing. Bournemouth's issues are everywhere. The bigger the money they've spent, the bigger the disaster of the signings - Dominic Solanke, Jordon Ibe.
It's been Callum Wilson and Josh King, and Ryan Fraser refusing to sign an extension told me that would be pretty damaging. They never sorted the defence out properly, and because of that it's a failure.
I'm tempted to give Brighton a C+. Again, it was about survival, they might not think that because they're starting to stabilise in the league, but with the change of manager when Chris Hughton was dumped, to be fair he's played a style I like to watch. They're still struggling for goals, but they play attacking and from the back.
I thought they'd be a team questioning themselves when we started back, because of a lack of goals, but they never really got dragged in. They got that late winner against Arsenal, and seemed in control of their own destiny and never really flustered after that. It's been pretty comfortable, and I'd look at Graham Potter and think he doesn't need to add too many new players.
They use what I see as probably one of the smallest squads in the league, and then get to a period where they do quite well, then they don't win for six games, you think this is the season they're going to get dragged in, and then Sean Dyche gets them sorted out and all of a sudden, you think - how good are their centre forwards? He always seems to get them scoring goals. Looking back at Danny Ings too, he always seems to find goalscorers. Ashley Barnes never looked the ticket for a long time. You need the players to work it.
He gets responses from people at different times. They slipped up on the last day and could have ended up eighth, but it's another mid-table, comfortable season, a team that still scores goals. It might be a bit old-fashioned for some people, but it works. They're a great model for clubs that come up to say, if you fancy this style, it can work. This is how you get people to not panic, to not worry about what they're saying about you.
This will be a B+ if they beat Arsenal in the FA Cup final. The agenda for Frank Lampard was a change of style; youngsters getting more opportunities. When I look at who's been the real stars, Tammy Abraham had a good season, Reece James looks a good prospect, but I don't see the improvement in the defence generally or Kepa Arrizabalaga being a top-class goalkeeper.
Christian Pulisic is the one who's caught my eye most since the restart. He looks up to Eden Hazard's level already, he's got two great feet.
Frank's still had to rely on a couple of his old warhorses to get Chelsea over the line, but overall I think he can be pleased. The Champions League is a big thing for Chelsea financially.
If I'm taking them on the back-end of seven defeats and a draw to complete the season, I'm looking at it and saying it's been a bad season. But looking at the table, considering what Roy Hodgson has to deal with, he hasn't had a striker since the day he walked in.
This team needs a lot of changes, it's very old. It needs a bit of money. But for this season, it's not been impressive. They're a hard watch at times. I watched them against Chelsea recently, they were dead until Wilfried Zaha popped up with a goal, but they still lost. I would've thought this team could do better.
I don't know what Everton are. I don't know what their style is, what their shape is, Carlo Ancelotti is a man who should have got that embedded in them by now. It started well for him, but I look at people like Gylfi Sigurdsson and ask if they are that interested?
I think Ancelotti will look at this team and say how much have I got? I don't think there'll be a lot of money there, they've spent big before. It's been a pretty bog-standard season for them.
Ancelotti will be questioning his own job so far. He'll be asking why Duncan Ferguson could get a lift out of the players, then he did when he turned up, and now he can't get anything from them. Does it matter to them? His CV is to die for, and he'll ask why he's not getting the best out of certain players.
At the start of the season, you'd say if Brendan Rodgers could get Leicester into Europe he'd be sitting there thinking that's pretty good. Jamie Vardy obviously got his award, but in general terms, I thought Leicester deserved to get into the top four. But football's cruel at this level.
Before the lockdown, you could see they were questioning themselves, James Maddison went off the boil, Vardy wasn't getting the supply, and I think when I break down the defence he had, he deserves a lot of credit for his style. I like it a lot.
But he does get lucky most of the time with injuries - but on the last day it pinpointed to me with Wes Morgan coming in, he's hardly used any defenders. Ben Chilwell and Ricardo Pereira get injured and they suddenly look all over the place. Have they got enough? The fact of the matter was, Leicester's squad has been too small.
But overall, for the season people might say they blew the top four. I never anticipated them being there. I thought they had a chance of the top six or seven, but fifth is a very good finish. It's their own fault, they blew it, but if you said to them if they'd be happy with finishing fifth next season, I think they'd take it again.
I didn't think Liverpool could get to this level of consistency. The style of football they play, Manchester City are my favourites to watch with that style, but Liverpool offer you energy, speed, movement, skill, touch, and more importantly, a desire right to the end. Even if they're not playing well, they can dig out results.
They are the one club who need the supporters more than any other team, because of the way they are. No one quite does it like Liverpool in England, driving them out of being average.
There's one game in particular I remember, Aston Villa away. They were terrible. 1-0 down, should've been 2-0 down, and all of a sudden Andy Robertson pops up, I think Sadio Mane got the other one. They weren't satisfied with the draw, it was having another chance of winning. That's what you call rock and roll football.
Where do I think it's gone wrong for them? The problems have been the same. They had two seasons where they spent £50m on full-backs, and they were pinning people in. But now they're not at the byline like Liverpool's full-backs. It's not been as effective. Worse than that, they don't have the best centre-backs.
Kevin De Bruyne's last season has been of such a high standard, for a team who are way off the top. They're still going for the Champions League, I'd love to see them do it too. De Bruyne was carrying the team for a while, but now Raheem Sterling's popped up again with some goals and performances.
They're still playing the same way though generally, it's easy to turn around and say they get fed up whereas Liverpool stay patient, and yeah Liverpool are champions and they're not! But they're still trying to do things the right way.
I'm not enamoured by Manchester United. I think they're miles away. They finished third, but Leicester fell apart a bit, Chelsea were stumbling all over the place, take nothing away from them getting into the Champions League or from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer personally, but the reality is still that they've been poor.
They got there because of the failure of some of the other teams. We know Bruno Fernandes has given them a massive lift, at the back I don't think they've improved dramatically, I don't think their defenders or full-backs are the best defenders, and I don't think they're a passing machine in midfield too. There's a lot of work still to be done.
But making the Champions League mitigates some of that. There's been improvement, but I don't think it's been as eye-catching as some of the other teams.
Some Newcastle fans are questioning how dare we suggest Steve Bruce has done as good a job as Rafa Benitez, but come on guys, he has. A lot of people didn't want him there, didn't like the style, but I think he's been more attacking than Rafa.
Not as well-drilled defensively, but for what he had, and what he's done, Allan Saint-Maximin's been a good signing, Miguel Almiron has enjoyed himself, Joelinton's been a bit of a disaster though.
He ended up playing a decent attacking style which Newcastle fans would, if they're sitting over their beer in the stadium, say he did a good job but not as good as Rafa - you'd say really? The position he finished in the league? There wasn't even one bit of sweat on the brow about going down, which you got with Rafa.
It's D for down. They were the real favourites from the start, they didn't change too much defensively which became an issue, they started well with Emi Buendia, Todd Cantwell and Teemu Pukki.
The squad itself wasn't good enough to get them out of the hole they were going to be in. To be fair to the manager it would've been crazy to get rid of him, he tries to play the right way, the home support like it, and with him as manager they'll be favourites to come straight back.
They've been the team who, after Liverpool, have caught my imagination of being better than we thought they would be. It's a great shape, a good style, in-your-face football with a twist - overlapping centre-backs, I've never heard of it before! My goodness.
There was an energy, a belief and desire, and I think behind Jurgen Klopp, Chris Wilder was manager of the year. Yes it was a little bit awkward when they started back, but the job was done. They never made Europe, but it's been an enjoyable and a wonderful season for them.
They've not got great pace up front, but Oliver McBurnie works for the team, David McGoldrick works for the team, great delivery from wide areas, and one season back - they look like they've been there for years.
Its about the way they came back from the 9-0 embarrassment… That was a question mark beside the manager. You thought no manager wants to work with an embarrassment like that. They were never going to sack him, but what he did… He took time out, he knew they liked his style, he had to get back to basics.
He delivered, and delivered it with style. If I was picking a team of the season after lockdown, it would be Southampton. He's even got a response from Che Adams in the last few games, getting a couple of goals, and all of a sudden he looks like he might be a good signing.
When I saw them qualifying for the Europa League, I thought that was weird. Am I jealous being an Arsenal fan? No, not really. Spurs have always had this thing about Arsenal finishing above them, and in the last few seasons they've reversed the roles. That was because they were a much better team than Arsenal - but they're not much better than them now.
Jose Mourinho's target was to get into the Champions League, not the Europa League. That's what this stadium was built for; there's problems defensively, he doesn't know what his best partnership is at the back, and can they keep Harry Kane?
I don't think some of the players have adapted to his way. But in judgement of the season they've had, it's been up and down, pretty average.
It's another D for down. At times they looked good, beat Liverpool, but didn't get enough out of Troy Deeney, didn't get enough out of Ismaila Sarr, Gerard Deulofeu's injury was a massive blow too.
The big ones that let me down were Abdoulaye Doucoure and Etienne Capoue. I thought that was a really good partnership in midfield, but it just never happened this season. Defensively they're all over the place, their best player of the season has been Ben Foster. That's the reality of it.
Whatever happened with Nigel Pearson, even if he had a fall-out with the players, he had to get them over the line. And if they didn't make it, they didn't make it.
David Moyes did a fantastic job. He worked a way to get the defence better, Lukasz Fabianski hasn't been as good as in previous seasons but he's still their best keeper, he's got more out of midfield too, and got Michail Antonio playing in a position which suits him.
I think they would be crazy not to extend his contract and say here's a bit of money, that's the second time you've got us out of trouble, you did it with a bit of style this time too.
I could see signs of what Moyes was building at Everton. It was slow, it took him time, but I could see this going the same way.
I was a bit disappointed; they were my outside bet for the Champions League. They've had a good season, but since they've started back, they lost against Arsenal, it was the first time they looked upset for a while and didn't get the right response.
But the team shape is good, they've improved Adama Traore, Raul Jimenez has improved, Jonny's improved, Diogo Jota has improved, Pedro Neto's improved.
He's a star turn, the manager. I can see him getting a big job in Europe if they're not careful.