Sports Point

Phil McNulty’s Premier League end-of-season report

Premier League end-of-season report

Phil McNulty’s predicted 2018-19 Premier League positions at a glance
PositionClubPosition (cont)Club (cont)
1Manchester City11Fulham
2Liverpool12Burnley
3Manchester United13Crystal Palace
4Tottenham14Bournemouth
5Chelsea15Brighton
6Arsenal16Southampton
7Wolves17Huddersfield
8Everton18Newcastle
9West Ham19Watford
10Leicester20Cardiff

Manchester City – 1st

Worthy and deserved champions after a magnificent tit-for-tat title race with Liverpool. Pep Guardiola’s team showed all the brilliance that has earned them 198 points over two seasons but this was also about mental strength and character in a situation that required 14 straight victories to become the first side to retain the crown for a decade. Winning the Carabao Cup and FA Cup for the clean sweep of domestic trophies demonstrates their quality.

McNulty’s pre-season prediction: Champions

What McNulty said in August: “They may not get 100 points or win by that runaway 19-point margin – but they will be champions again.”

Liverpool – 2nd

So close to their first title in 29 years only to lose out by one point to Manchester City on the final day – but 97 points with just one Premier League loss (to City) illustrates a wonderful campaign that may yet bring Liverpool the Champions League. Manager Jurgen Klopp has revitalised the entire club. They are not going away as title contenders. Liverpool have a young, settled squad dotted with world-class talent. They will challenge again next season.

McNulty’s pre-season prediction: 2nd

What McNulty said in August: “There is no valid reason to be 25 points behind the champions this season and they will run Manchester City close.”

Chelsea – 3rd

Strangely underwhelming, contradictory season under Maurizio Sarri, whose management has sometimes frustrated and angered Chelsea’s fans. He has, however, fulfilled his remit in many respects, securing Champions League football next season and taking the Blues to the Europa League final against Arsenal in Baku. Unrest has lurked beneath the surface, though. Who can forget keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga’s refusal to be substituted during the League Cup final loss to Manchester City? Still would not risk the last fiver on him being in charge next season, even if they win the Europa League.

McNulty’s pre-season prediction: 5th

What McNulty said in August: “It could be a lot of fun watching Chelsea this season and don’t put it past them to mount a serious top four challenge and win (as they usually do) a trophy.”

Tottenham Hotspur – 4th

Spurs’ title challenge, which looked strong at one point, fell away. Their tally of 13 defeats was far too many and the combined total of the three teams who finished above them. The story of their season may yet have the most remarkable end when they face Liverpool in the Champions League final in Madrid on 1 June. If they pull that off they could be commissioning a statue of manager Mauricio Pochettino, who has taken them to that showpiece and guaranteed Champions League football next season without adding to his squad.

McNulty’s pre-season prediction: 4th

What McNulty said in August: “This is a squad that could conceivably finish higher than this prediction but Pochettino, like Klopp at Liverpool, must now reward those who persistently shower his work with praise with a trophy.”

Arsenal – 5th

The post-Arsene Wenger era under Unai Emery has been a thing of extremes, with blockbusting home performances to beat Tottenham and Chelsea mixed with old failings away from home, where frailties surfaced and led to them finishing outside the top four. Emery, however, is an experienced hand who may yet guide the Gunners into the Champions League via his speciality, the Europa League. He won it three times in succession at Sevilla.

McNulty’s pre-season prediction: 6th

What McNulty said in August: “Watching Arsenal might be a treat this season and Emery can consider it a job well done if he gets them into the Champions League.

Manchester United – 6th

A wretched season (and pre-season) riddled with discontent, players failing to live up to reputations and uncertainty over whether Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is the right man to replace Jose Mourinho, who was sacked in December. A run to the Champions League quarter-finals, secured with a remarkable win at Paris St-Germain, cannot disguise the fact that United’s squad is in a woeful state and Solskjaer is a manager with everything to prove.

McNulty’s pre-season prediction: 3rd

What McNulty said in August: “What a ray of sunshine Jose Mourinho has been in pre-season – almost being followed around by a little black cloud over his head.”

Wolverhampton Wanderers – 7th

My prediction of a seventh-place finish drew plenty of comment at the time but, on this occasion, the crystal ball was beautifully polished. Superb season under the excellent management of Nuno Espirito Santo, with Molineux graced by some fine attacking football. The concession of a two-goal lead in the FA Cup semi-finals against Watford brought anguish, but this great old club can build further and be a Premier League force for years to come.

McNulty’s pre-season prediction: 7th

What McNulty said in August: “The first wildcard call. Left-field I know, but a serious fancy for the top 10.”

Everton – 8th

The graph of Marco Silva’s first season dipped in the middle but ended on an upward curve. The Portuguese won hearts and minds at Everton with a finishing flourish that saw his side produce a string of high-quality, attacking performance at home – Chelsea and Arsenal were beaten and Manchester United mauled, all without conceding a goal. Europe would have been the aim but Silva has shown enough to warrant the faith of ambitious owner Farhad Moshiri.

McNulty’s pre-season prediction: 8th

What McNulty said in August: “A fruitful final day of the window, with Bernard arriving as a creator and Barcelona’s Yerry Mina adding power to defence (albeit a gamble) just edges them ahead of ambitious West Ham.”

Leicester City – 9th

Mixed bag of a campaign. Low-key Claude Puel was sacked in February but the Foxes ended with performances of real promise under his successor, Brendan Rodgers, who was so impressed with the club’s ambition he ditched Scottish champions Celtic before the season’s end. Have the sort of squad that could have finished higher with better early management.

It should also be stressed the events on the pitch were put into perspective by the helicopter crash outside the King Power Stadium in October in which owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and four other people died.

McNulty’s pre-season prediction: 10th

What McNulty said in August: “The big question is – can Puel get the best out of this squad?”

West Ham United – 10th

West Ham were inconsistent, mixing high-quality displays – such as the victory at Spurs – with dismal performances – such as the 4-2 defeat by League One strugglers Wimbledon in the FA Cup fourth round. Manuel Pellegrini has provided a steady, low-key presence and showed enough to end the season with cautious optimism – but no more.

McNulty’s pre-season prediction: 9th

What McNulty said in August: “West Ham are never an easy prediction but there just may be a better season ahead.”

Watford – 11th

Did not quite achieve what Leicester City did by winning the title in the season I predicted they would be relegated, but the Hornets certainly made a mess of a similar pre-season tip. Humiliated by Manchester City in the FA Cup final – but a great achievement to get there. A well-run club guided by a shrewd manager in Javi Gracia, this was a campaign of steady consolidation.

McNulty’s pre-season prediction: 19th

What McNulty said in August: “It’s a dangerous business going against the Hornets – they have defied the odds before.”

Crystal Palace – 12th

No relegation fears for Crystal Palace under the experienced guidance of Roy Hodgson but still a feeling they might have done even better with the players at his disposal, especially at Selhurst Park, which is normally their fortress. Mid-table safety reduces the anxiety and that, for now, seems enough.

McNulty’s pre-season prediction: 13th

What McNulty said in August: “I fully expect a season without relegation worries at one of the Premier League’s most atmospheric arenas.”

Newcastle United – 13th

Another August tip for relegation and threatened to give me a run for my imaginary money for a fair portion of the season. In the end, Newcastle survived with plenty to spare, adding to the Rafael Benitez legend on Tyneside – and it was all done amid the usual noise about his future.

McNulty’s pre-season prediction: 18th

What McNulty said in August: “If Benitez stays and can be kept reasonably happy (a big if that one) then there is reason to suspect Newcastle can stay up. If he doesn’t then there may be serious consequences.”

Bournemouth – 14th

Bournemouth are now fixtures in the Premier and this placing was achieved by another slice of life under manager Eddie Howe – landmark wins, such as the 4-0 beating of Chelsea, interspersed with collapses because of calamitous defending, something he seems unwilling or unable to cure. The Cherries conceded 70 league goals – the worst outside the relegation zone.

McNulty’s pre-season prediction: 14th

What McNulty said in August: “Expect another solid season of consolidation for the Cherries, with spectacular victories and defeats occasionally arriving in swift succession.”

Burnley – 15th

In danger after the 5-1 home defeat against Everton on 26 December left them 18th with only 12 points from 19 games – but everyone at Burnley held their nerve, including manager Sean Dyche, and they were able to enjoy a peaceful end to the season. The restoration of keeper Tom Heaton in place of Joe Hart was a key decision.

McNulty’s pre-season prediction: 15th

What McNulty said in August: “How they manage the Europa League may yet be key to their progress this season.”

Southampton – 16th

Made an error handing manager Mark Hughes a three-year deal after keeping Saints up, then needed to act by sacking the Welshman in December. Austrian Ralph Hasenhuttl was a clever appointment as successor and he has cleared the air around the club with his charisma, results and his ability to get the best out of the likes of Nathan Redmond and James Ward-Prowse. It should be onwards and upwards from here.

McNulty’s pre-season prediction: 16th

What McNulty said in August: “I’m not expecting relegation but I don’t see too much sparkle either – although there is a lot riding on this season for the experienced Hughes.”

Brighton & Hove Albion – 17th

Chris Hughton was sacked the day after the season ended, paying a heavy price for Brighton almost sleepwalking into the relegation trap – but his good work over the years and the fact he took the Seagulls into the Premier League and kept them there will not be forgotten. Pragmatism did not help his cause, but now we will see if the highly regarded Graham Potter can do better.

McNulty’s pre-season prediction: 15th

What McNulty said in August: “Chris Hughton and his Brighton players performed superbly to stay in the Premier league last season and I back this vastly underrated manager to do the same this time around.”

Cardiff City – 18th

I predicted relegation but no-one can say Cardiff City did not put up a fight under manager Neil Warnock. They simply lacked the quality but were also on the wrong end of some poor decisions, notably when they lost at home to Chelsea at home after leading until late on. The season was overshadowed by the death of Emiliano Sala, their £15m signing from Nantes, in a plane crash as he travelled from France to begin his career at the club.

McNulty’s pre-season prediction: 20th

What McNulty said in August: “Warnock has found the transition from Championship to Premier League a difficult one before and might have wanted to do more in the markets this summer.”

Fulham – 19th

Utter shambles for a club who spent £100m after promotion to get in shape for the Premier League. Instead, it was a policy lacking focus and structure, quickly costing the man who got them up, Slavisa Jokanovic, his job. Claudio Ranieri – “risk free and ready made for the Premier League”, according to owner Shahid Khan – was anything but. The magic that took Leicester to the title was gone and he was sacked after 106 days. Scott Parker’s appointment is an attempt to regain Fulham’s identity, which they must do back in the Championship. Made a nonsense of my prediction.

McNulty’s pre-season prediction: 11th

What McNulty said in August: “Fulham were promoted playing superb football in the Championship last season under a progressive manager in Slavisa Jokanovic and nothing has happened this summer to suggest that development will not continue.”

Huddersfield – 20th

Had a hunch Huddersfield Town might just stay up but got it badly wrong. Miracles never usually happen twice so it is back to the Championship for the Terriers after two seasons in the top flight. No shame in that, simply undone by a lack of quality and a chronic lack of goals – just 22 in the league. David Wagner’s departure was a sign of how things were heading and it was all too much of a foregone conclusion for Jan Siewert to change. Their tremendous support will be missed.

McNulty’s pre-season prediction: 17th

What McNulty said in August: “I was delighted when Huddersfield Town proved me wrong last season. I hope they don’t this season.”

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