By J Hutcherson (Jun 13, 2017) US Soccer Players – The 2016-16 Premier League season lacked the drama, the underdog story, and the pressure. Instead, it was a season of pragmatism from several clubs. For Chelsea, that meant picking up enough points for the title without necessarily convincing anybody that they were the strongest team in the league. For Manchester United, it meant sacrificing the Premier League for the Europa League. For Arsenal, it meant doing enough to keep things the way they are.
There are no super clubs in England
When the Premier League champion has to shake a reputation for piling up points against the bottom half of the league, it’s not a marquee moment for super clubs. Sure, none of them have to answer why an outsider took the trophy in 2016-17, but there are still plenty of questions. Chelsea’s performance. Spurs finishing in 2nd-place. The lack of sustained pressure from the clubs with the highest payrolls to mount a title challenge late in the season. With so much money in the Premier League and such a willingness to spend, this isn’t how the league should play out. Some will focus attention on how many points it takes to finish in the top four these days, but this is the richest league in the world. Their richest teams spending so much should push the points higher. Did 2016-17 convince anybody that there’s meaningful parity among the super clubs? Probably not. Instead, it’s turned the top half of the table into excuses for why clubs aren’t capable of winning Premier League games when it counts.
Pay for goalkeepers
Goalkeepers are already drawing a premium this summer, and for good reason. Too many teams now realize that there are more than a handful of elite keepers worth massive transfer fees. It’s going to become an obligation for super clubs and wannabe super clubs to pay well for goalkeeping, reviving a market that regularly undervalues keepers. Good news if you’re a club with a highly rated goalkeeper on offer, at least in terms of economics. In terms of what raiding the bottom half of the Premier League and foreign clubs will do to overall quality is a question this season asked and next season will answer.
The Europa League counts
Manchester United sent a clear message about the value of the Europa League, playing for that title and its qualification spot in next season’s Champions League. It worked, putting the Europa League into frame as a season salvager for underachieving super clubs. It’s an odd double for United, winning the EFL Cup and the Europa League. It’s not enough to convince anybody that this is a step toward contention. They could easily end up needing back-to-back Europa League titles to keep a Champions League place. That’s the problem with sliding down the Premier League table, whether by design or circumstance. It was both for Manchester United this season, something that the Premier League would probably prefer not to see repeated.
The Manchester derby doesn’t
The Manchester derby is now the meeting of the big name manager. Season one of Guardiola vs Mourinho ended with Pep himself saying his club underachieved. He’s right. They spent for the kind of campaign that should’ve counted at Premier League and Champions League level and ended up disappointing in both. Mourinho’s late season focus on Europe through the back door meant his club all but wrote off the remainder of their Premier League schedule. With City winning at Old Trafford in September, the rematch at the Etihad ended scoreless on April 27. Cue both teams lining up to spend as much as possible over the summer while playing a preseason derby in Houston on July 20.
Arsenal won’t risk change
For all the media pressure on Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, looking back it seems clear all along that it was exterior. Inside Arsenal, he was under no threat. Wenger gets another contract, keeping in place the coaching setup that’s been good enough for Arsenal. That’s their game right now, refusing to risk sliding away from what they know Wenger can do over the course of a Premier League season. 5th-place and the FA Cup certainly counts, even if it doesn’t count as much as challenging for the Premier League title and finishing in a Champions League place. Arsenal can’t complain, or at least their support can’t complain enough for it to make a difference. There are worse alternatives, with Arsenal opting for longevity and their version of stability rather than taking a risk.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him at email@example.com.
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