Just one round of Premier League fixtures to go and still so much to be decided.
Who will win the title? Who will join and Norwich in the Championship? And before they leave, can the Canaries do a solid by beating Tottenham and handing the Gooners a lifeline? So much uncertainty still around.
You’ll have to wait until Sunday for answers to the big questions but fortunately, we can settle some crucial issues today with the Matchzone end-of-season awards.
Player of the year
A tricky one to kick us off. The Writers’ Association gave Mohamed Salah a free dinner and a nice trophy, a gesture questioned by some when Kevin De Bruyne responded with four goals against Wolves next time out.
But the admirable way in which both Manchester City and Liverpool put team before individual means many contenders but no outstanding candidate.
So, we will use that as an excuse to give our award to a man who did not have a club before January and didn’t play a Premier League game until the end of February — but had a very good excuse.
That Christian Eriksen made it back at all was an incredible achievement after his horrific collapse and near-death experience last summer. Had he had a couple of run-outs, decided elite football was no longer for him and promptly retired it would still have been a gigantic accomplishment.
Instead, Eriksen quickly became Brentford’s most important player, scoring once and providing four assists as the Bees were dragged out of a tailspin and deposited safely in mid-table. That, understandably, cannot be beat.
Team of the year
Manchester City will likely win a fourth league title in five years on Sunday but next weekend they will be wondering what could have been as Liverpool prepare for a third Champions League final in five seasons.
Jurgen Klopp’s men have already lifted the Carabao Cup and FA Cup and if they add a seventh European Cup in Paris to the trophy cabinet and top 90 points in the league, then 2021-22 will go down as one of the greatest seasons in an illustrious history.
But, for us, the league is the pinnacle. City may have lost their minds against Real Madrid but so did Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea. If Liverpool are as good as we think they are, then any team who finishes above them — again — after 38 games deserves a Metro gong to add to their collection.
Manager of the year
And yet it would be remiss (and foolish — have you seen Liverpool Twitter?), not to consider the financial might at City’s disposal. This is the club who spent £100million on Jack Grealish, whose most memorable contribution came as an unused sub when he called Stefan Savic a ‘c***’ during the Great Brawl of Madrid, and still seem likely to win the league.
Now Liverpool have hardly been searching for coppers down the back of Kenny Dalglish’s sofa but Klopp gets the nod from us for keeping City honest year after year and burying any talk of a cup final hoodoo once and for all.
Honourable mentions go to Patrick Vieira for a transformative effect at Crystal Palace, Thomas Frank’s leadership of the Danish Republic of Brentford and David Moyes for ensuring ‘West Ham are massive’ became a dancefloor hit the length and breadth of Europe.
Captains of chaos
Having just touched on five extremely well-run clubs who are reaping the benefits of long-term planning and foresight, it is only fair to highlight those for whom strategy appears to be something you decide while waiting for the kettle to boil.
One report of Watford’s disastrous campaign saw Claudio Ranieri — the third of three men to oversee the Hornets’ return to the Championship — accused of consistently getting the name of one of his players wrong.
Not a great look but it’s a wonder anyone at Vicarage Road knew the name of their manager from one week to the next such is the pace of change at Watford. Next season’s boss, Rob Edwards, has already been introduced to fans before predecessor Roy Hodgson has managed his final game.
The other contender for this unwanted prize is Everton, who alienated their fanbase by appointing Rafa Benitez, spent two weeks mulling over his successor, eventually appointing Frank Lampard on the final day of the transfer window and promptly lost five of their next six games.
On the face of it, Norwich appear to be one of those well-run clubs who adhere to a long-term strategy but it is a strategy which appears to have no time for Premier League football.
And so the Canaries pass between the top two divisions for the fourth season in a row, to be replaced by Fulham — who appear to be stuck in a similar vortex of futility. There is little to dislike about either club but if they swap places again this time next year it will be more than a little tiresome.
Best new signings
Arsene Wenger was never a fan of buying players in January and has even advocated closing the winter transfer window since donning a Fifa blazer. But then Wenger also does not think athletes should eat tomato ketchup, so is probably not to be trusted.
Further evidence for the suspect nature of the Frenchman’s views came in the form of Luis Diaz, who proved the latest excellent addition to Liverpool’s frontline after choosing Anfield over Tottenham in January. Spurs could have sulked about that one but instead brought in Dejan Kulusevski, who quickly became an oversized Swedish nightmare for opposing full-backs.
Arsenal, as was usually their way under Wenger, bought no one in January. Look how that turned out.
Beware the trophy signing
City and Liverpool are the poster boys for overseas investment and Newcastle’s controversial Saudi takeover bodes well for their prospects, if not their image. But the shambolic season at Manchester United and the global events which pulled the rug from under Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea reign show that handing the keys to a club to those with motives beyond those of a fan does not always end well.
A final round of applause
Ah, applause. Not something to be taken for granted. After month after month of football played in empty stadiums through the pandemic, supporters returned in force this season, making themselves heard up and down the country.
Relegation battles at Everton and Leeds have been played out against a wall of noise, Tottenham supporters brutalised the ears of Arsenal’s young Guns in the recent, decisive north London derby and packed, noisy crowds have been a welcome feature of some memorable FA Cup ties and the EFL play-off semi-finals. Just go easy on the flares, okay?
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