The 2019-20 Premier League has finally come to an end, with every on-field issue having been resolved despite the 100-day coronavirus shutdown that threatened to leave England‘s top flight in a state of disarray.
Liverpool have been crowned champions for the first time since 1990, Manchester United are back in the Champions League and a dramatic final-day saw Aston Villa hold onto their Premier League status as Bournemouth and Watford joined Norwich in being relegated to the Championship.
Some clubs have punched above their weight and others have fallen short of expectations, so as the dust begins to settle on an extraordinary Premier League season, ESPN has delivered its verdict on the end-of-year grades, taking into account preseason hopes, transfer spending and overall performance.
champions, 99 points (+52 goal difference)
Liverpool have been top of the class in every sense, with Jurgen Klopp’s players ending the club’s 30-year title drought and also winning the UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup to complete an unforgettable 2019-20 season. They’ve set countless records too: Liverpool won the title with 7 games left to play, became the fastest team to 30 wins in a season, made the best start ever (61 points from their first 21 games) and ended with 32 league wins to equal the tally set by Manchester City in 2017-18.
Liverpool finished with 99 points, so they missed out on eclipsing City’s 100-point record and their defence of the Champions League ended with elimination by Atletico Madrid in the round of 16. That’s why they miss out on an A+, but at times this season, Klopp’s team came close to perfection.
Steve Nicol says both he and Liverpool won’t lose any sleep over not surpassing Man City’s PL points record.
2nd place, 81 points (+67 GD)
It is a reflection of the incredibly high standards set by City under Pep Guardiola that they only end up with a C, but if they win the Champions League in Lisbon next month, that will instantly become an A. Domestically, however, it was always going to be impossible to better last season’s historic feat of achieving the Treble of Premier League, FA Cup and Carabao Cup.
Despite finishing as runners-up in the league, City lost nine of their 38 games and ended up 18 points adrift of Liverpool. They won the Carabao Cup for a third straight year, but standards have clearly slipped at the Etihad this season.
Kevin De Bruyne has been their stand-out player, but defensive problems need resolving if City are to dethrone Liverpool next season.
Don Hutchison lauds Man City’s Kevin De Bruyne for his play in the Premier League this season.
3rd place, 66 points (+30 GD)
United have gone from finishing sixth last season to ending up as “best of the rest” in third this time around, so that in itself ensures that the campaign must be viewed as a success for manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but it has been a bumpy ride. At times, Solskjaer’s job even looked under threat.
United made their worst-ever start to a Premier League season and suffered four defeats during a difficult January, but after making big changes last summer by offloading several experienced players, including Romelu Lukaku, Ander Herrera and Alexis Sanchez, Solskjaer’s young team came good in the end, with a helping hand from January signing Bruno Fernandes.
United are still in transition, but finally, they appear to be on an upward trajectory again.
The FC crew react to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer delivering Champions League football to Man United.
4th place, 66 points (+15 GD)
Lampard inherited a squad that had just sold star player Eden Hazard to Real Madrid and was unable to replace him because of the club’s worldwide transfer ban, but despite the challenges he faced, the former Derby manager guided Chelsea to a top-four finish. By turning to the club’s crop of homegrown youngsters such as Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Fikayo Tomori and Billy Gilmour, Lampard has put Chelsea on a strong footing for the future. Their successful Champions League qualification will help accelerate the rebuilding job.
5th place, 62 points (+26 GD)
Having occupied a top-four position since September, the immediate reaction to finishing fifth would be to suggest that Leicester blew their chance to return to the Champions League. But had manager Brendan Rodgers promised to deliver European football at the start of the season, fifth place would have seemed the height of Leicester’s ambitions due to the competition around them.
Jamie Vardy‘s goals — he earned the Golden Boot with 23 league strikes — were crucial in firing Leicester into Europe, but injuries to James Maddison, Ben Chilwell and Ricardo Pereira ultimately derailed the Foxes’ push for the Champions League. Had they stayed fit, it is difficult to imagine that Leicester would have suffered their late-season form slump.
Don Hutchison says Frank Lampard’s voice was heard loud and clear with Kepa on the bench vs. Wolves.
6th place, 59 points (+14 GD)
Last season’s Champions League final defeat against Liverpool always felt like a turning point for Spurs, with Mauricio Pochettino warning that the club needed to strengthen to build on their surprise run to the final. Spurs didn’t strengthen sufficiently, though, and Pochettino was sacked as manager in November with the team languishing in 14th position.
Jose Mourinho did well to revive Spurs to secure qualification for the Europa League, but there is an inescapable sense of the club once again facing a crucial summer. For such a talented squad, Spurs have under-performed.
7th place, 59 points (+11 GD)
Wolves are now firmly established as a Premier League force having secured a seventh-place finish for two successive seasons since promotion in 2018, but Nuno Espirito Santo’s team could arguably have secured a higher finish this time around. The goals of Raul Jimenez and wing play of Adama Traore have been crucial for Wolves, but a lack of depth has forced Nuno to rely on a small core of key players and fatigue has been the team’s undoing.
As it stands, Wolves are waiting to discover the full picture of their season, with Europa League qualification resting on Arsenal losing the FA Cup final. They can also secure Champions League qualification by winning the Europa League next month — if that happens, they get an A.
Steve Nicol lays into Jose Mourinho and Tottenham for celebrating after Spurs qualified for the Europa League.
8th place, 56 points (+8 GD)
If Arsenal win the FA Cup on Saturday, a dismal season will have been rescued by silverware and Europa League qualification, but even that success should not be allowed to gloss over the reality of the club’s lowest Premier League finish since 1995. The sacking of manager Unai Emery in November resulted in the appointment of Mikel Arteta and the former Arsenal captain has made some tough decisions, such as dropping Mesut Ozil and Matteo Guendouzi and promoting teenage forward Bukayo Saka.
Arteta looks to be on the right track, but if Arsenal end up without the FA Cup and no European football next season, he may lose top scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang this summer, which would be disastrous for the rebuilding project. The outcome of the cup final is huge for Arsenal’s immediate future.
9th place, 54 points (0 GD)
Chris Wilder’s team have outstripped all expectations this season, with the Blades securing a top 10 finish having been promoted back to the Premier League following a 12-year absence last season. Tipped by many to be relegated, United spent all season in the top half and were even in the shake-up for European qualification until the final week of the campaign.
Wilder, who has now managed in all five tiers of the professional game in England, has achieved success with largely the same squad that won promotion a year ago, and the team’s results this season have led to the 52-year-old being touted as the Premier League’s manager of the year.
10th place, 54 points (-7 GD)
Sean Dyche continues to defy gravity with Burnley, a club from a town with a population of just 70,000 that regularly competes against, and outdoes, teams from major cities with far greater resources.
Goalkeeper Nick Pope is now on the verge of claiming the England No. 1 jersey after recording 15 clean sheets this season, while winger Dwight McNeil has caught the eye of Manchester City. Chris Wood‘s 14 league goals have been crucial too, but the Burnley secret is the collective spirit of a squad of committed professionals who mirror the hard-working ethos of their manager.
11th place, 52 points (-9 GD)
Southampton were in the relegation zone and manager Ralph Hasenhuttl seemingly fighting for his job after the humiliation of a 9-0 home defeat against Leicester in October. But the Saints’ board held firm and backed Hasenhuttl, and the Austrian has repaid their faith by guiding the team to a mid-table finish, with any relegation fears banished before the shutdown in March.
The goals of Danny Ings — the former Liverpool striker finished one behind Jamie Vardy on 22 — ensured that Southampton finished well clear of the drop zone, but it is a tribute to stability and good coaching that the club stayed up so comfortably.
12th place, 49 points (-12 GD)
A bad season could have been so much worse for Everton, with Marco Silva sacked as manager when the club were in the relegation zone last December. Carlo Ancelotti steered the Toffees away from danger, but the Italian has much work to do if he is to bring some sense and stability to Goodison Park.
A poor summer of recruitment, including a £28m move for Alex Iwobi and £25.1m on Juventus forward Moise Kean, barely improved Silva’s squad, while £23m buy Jean-Philippe Gbamin played just twice in an injury-ravaged season. Everton have money and, in Ancelotti, they now have a big-name manager, but this season has been one to forget and they need a squad overhaul if they’re to challenge for Europe next term.
13th place, 44 points (-20 GD)
Steve Bruce has done a remarkable job in his first season in charge at St James’ Park considering the off-field disruption of the long-running takeover saga at the club. A largely unpopular replacement for Rafael Benitez, Bruce has guided Newcastle to Premier League safety and their best run in the FA Cup for over 15 years, despite a squad lacking in depth or quality.
Midfielder Jonjo Shelvey was top scorer with just six league goals, while strikers Miguel Almiron and Dwight Gayle netted just four apiece. Joelinton, a £40m club record signing, scored just two league goals. Despite all the challenges he has faced, Bruce kept Newcastle up in the end, and with a 10-point cushion.
14th place, 43 points (-19 GD)
Survival will always be Crystal Palace‘s first priority in the Premier League, and that was achieved without too many fears of relegation. But alarm bells should be sounding at Selhurst Park because of the number of players in or approaching their 30s in manager Roy Hodgson’s squad.
Palace lost seven and drew one of their nine games after the restart and, with the 2020-21 season just weeks away, the loss of form in the closing stages of the season hints at a long campaign ahead for the Eagles.
BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION
15th place, 41 points (-15 GD)
Brighton narrowly avoided relegation last season, and the near-miss prompted the club to sack manager Chris Hughton and replace him with Graham Potter, despite the new man’s lack of Premier League experience. It was a gamble by the Seagulls’ board, but Potter has overcome some difficult periods this season to ultimately guide the team to safety with games to spare.
French forward Neal Maupay, signed by Potter from Brentford last summer, has been a key figure in Brighton’s survival with 10 goals in his first Premier League campaign.
16th place, 39 points (-13 GD)
If trophies were handed out for promising much and delivering little, West Ham would be vying with Everton in most seasons for that dubious honour.
Another summer of lavish spending — £45m on Sebastien Haller, £25.2m on Pablo Fornals — did nothing to transform West Ham’s fortunes, but the sacking of Manuel Pellegrini as manager in December saw the arrival of David Moyes, who was able to steer the Hammers to safety. That said, a club of West Ham’s size should not be flirting with relegation, considering their resources.
Mikel Arteta opens up about missing out on a spot in the Champions League and preparing for the FA Cup final.
17th place, 35 points (-26 GD)
Despite Villa’s historical status as one of England’s biggest clubs, this season was always going to be about survival following promotion via the playoffs last year. Their final-day escape from the drop ensured that manager Dean Smith can view this campaign as a success.
Not only did Villa survive — they would have been relegated had Sheffield United‘s ghost goal in last month’s 0-0 been given — they also reached the Carabao Cup final, before losing to Manchester City. A domestic cup final appearance and survival a year after being promoted is a great return, but their big task now is holding onto midfielder Jack Grealish.
Steve Nicol credits Dean Smith for strengthening Villa’s back line and keeping his club in the Premier League.
18th place, 34 points (-25 GD)
In many ways, Bournemouth have repeatedly punched above their weight during five seasons in the Premier League, but until this campaign, they have never been in serious relegation trouble. Despite their final-day win at Everton, Eddie Howe’s team were unable to escape the drop, but injuries, poor defending and a lack of goals from Callum Wilson and Joshua King have counted against them.
Winger Ryan Fraser‘s refusal to play for the club after the restart due to his contract running down also denied Bournemouth their most creative player. Had Fraser played, Bournemouth could have earned the extra point needed to stay up.
19th place, 34 points (-28 GD)
Watford’s relegation is a lesson in how not to run a Premier League football club. The sacking of three managers in one season is a recipe for disaster, but the dismissal of Nigel Pearson with just two games left to play sealed the club’s fate.
The rot arguably set in last season, when Watford lost their last four games, including a 6-0 hammering against Manchester City in the FA Cup final. But rather than address the problems last summer, Watford allowed Javi Gracia to remain in charge before sacking him after just four league games this time around. From that point on, everything unravelled and relegation has been the heavy price to pay.
20th place, 21 points (-49 GD)
When Norwich beat Manchester City 3-2 last September, Daniel Farke’s team suggested they could survive in their first season back in the Premier League. But the Canaries would only win one more game before Christmas, so their fate was as good as sealed before the season reached its halfway stage.
Top scorer Teemu Pukki scored just one of his 11 league goals in the second half of the season and, despite some enterprising performances and impressive displays by Todd Cantwell and goalkeeper Tim Krul, Norwich ultimately went down a huge 14 points from safety.