By Simon Evans
MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – Manchester City retained their Premier League title after ending the season with a 4-1 win at Brighton on Sunday, while Liverpool had to settle for second place, just a point behind, after losing just one game all season.
Here are five talking points from the final weekend of the Premier League season.
AN ANTI-CLIMAX – BUTWHAT A SEASON
After a week of extraordinary Champions League action, with two stunning comebacks from English teams, it felt a little anti-climactic that the final day of the season played out with no real plot twists and little drama.
Once City were in front against a Brighton team with little firepower, there was no way back.
And that has been the story of the season. Once City got that one point advantage, after Liverpool’s goalless draw in the Merseyside derby, there was not the slightest opportunity given by City to Juergen Klopp’s side.
The consistency of both teams has been remarkable but so has the quality of football produced by both clubs.
Are we set for several years of a duopoly? Probably. Spurs have the best chance of disrupting the north-west dominance and they stayed in the race for over half the season but ultimately ended 26 points behind Liverpool.
Manchester United aren’t in the title conversation at all for next season while it is hard to see Chelsea or Arsenal being real contenders.
A 2-0 home defeat to relegated Cardiff City was an acutely embarrassing way for Manchester United to close the book on this messy season.
The ‘honeymoon’ has long since ended for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the memory of that inspiring comeback win against Paris St Germain has faded all too quickly.
Now, Solskjaer has to rebuild, clearing out the unwanted from the dressing room, bringing in some fresh, younger and hungrier new faces and blooding some of the club’s own youngsters.
A season of transition awaits. United’s recent record in the transfer market, though, has not been good and they can ill-afford many more expensive flops.
This off-season will determine so much for the club — get it right and they could be back with an exciting young team. Get it wrong, though, and the club risks being simply left behind for years to come.
Brighton’s decision to sack manager Chris Hughton on Monday, despite the club surviving for another season in the top flight, was seen as harsh by some and was certainly a break with normal practice.
Managers in English football are usually sacked during the season, after a poor run of results or when the club’s owners sense relegation threatens.
It often makes little business or football sense — it means the new manager takes over another man’s team, with no pre-season to work with the players and little chance to shape the squad in the way he would like.
Yet English football is used to that way of operating and there would be little dissent if Brighton had made the change in, say, October with the club in the bottom three and morale low.
If the club no longer believe, rightly or wrongly, that Hughton is no longer the right man to lead them forward, then this is absolutely the best time to make that call.
It leaves the new man all summer to create a team, bring in new players, bed in a tactical framework and be ready for the new campaign.
WILLTHE ‘BIGSIX’ IDEASURVIVE?
If we are looking at a continuing duel between City and Liverpool, does the concept of the ‘big six’ really mean anything any more?
An argument could be made that we have a ‘big two’ and then another group of teams, which may prove to be less elite than it seemed not so long ago.
It’s not hard to imagine Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester and Marco Silva’s Everton, along with Wolves, getting very close to Manchester United and perhaps pushing Arsenal and Chelsea next season.
However, take a look at the final league table and there really aren’t many surprises are there? Most clubs finished close to where they would have been expected to finish. Then check the correlation to their wage bill.
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Ian Chadband)