Now, we can breathe.
As Manchester City and Liverpool came to the end of their epic Premier league title race, with one point separating them, both can hold their heads up high above the rest. For them, this has been a season of triumph and dominance, taking the challenge of being the best and making a thrilling story for us to follow.
In the end, City were just too good, just too clinical and just too resilient. Without Vincent Kompany’s thunderbolt against Leicester City, we may be having a different conversation entirely. Liverpool will end the season having lost one game, and what a game it was, filled with fine margins and Leroy Sané’s shot finding the net via the left-hand upright.
Such was City’s abundance of resources, he didn’t even play as many games as he may have anticipated. Bernardo Silva’s rise as a key cog in Pep Guardiola’s machine proved decisive, whilst stalwarts like David Silva and Sergio Agüero continue to improve where improvements didn’t seem likely.
So maybe this was how it needed to end in the grand scheme of things – City will contemplate a hat-trick of domestic titles, whilst Liverpool prepare for a second Champions League final in a row. For Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp – two men who have pushed themselves and their teams to the limit – the times ahead can be approached with great enthusiasm and a feeling of satisfaction.
Yet for the rest of the self-proclaimed “Big Six”, the road ahead doesn’t seem that simple. Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur feel like the supporting cast to the main event, whilst Arsenal contemplates a summer of continued rebuilding under Unai Emery.
But it will be Manchester United, in what seems to be their seventh instalment of a much-needed summer overhaul, who will have to make the tough decisions and ride the wave of self-inflicted harm, a look in the mirror that might not even make them relevant anytime soon.
At least they will still be in the league for that to happen – for now, we say goodbye to Cardiff City, Fulham and Huddersfield Town, relegated with games to spare and taking with them the hard truths of the cut-throat nature found among England’s elite. Brighton will breathe a sigh of relief and know that next season will be more difficult.
And in a season where the top two have been far and away the best teams, the rest of the league must find their collective voice and reflect on a season that has had more reality checks than success.
City and Liverpool can rightfully take their place as “The Big Two” – points tallies of 98 and 97 respectively almost demand it to be so – whilst the financial gap between the top six sides and the rest will continue to widen. Wolves, as the surprise package of the season, may be the best-placed team to bring some sanity to the middle pack – a nine-point difference between themselves and United suggests that the structures in place at Molineux are promising.
Everton, Watford and West Ham United, overtaken by Wolves, have struggled at various times of the season to make a credible push for Europe, and must find consistency in their approach to push on from being the best of the rest, to making positive ground on those above them who threaten to run away forever.
Southampton, who used to be celebrated for their identity and progress, will be wondering how they’re flirting with relegation. So will Crystal Palace. Burnley may be where they need to be after tasting the European craze for a little while, and Bournemouth will just be happy to be a part of the fun next season.
From their demolition of Chelsea to Moussa Sissoko’s skier at Anfield, the matches have had varying degrees of quality which in turn brought out the best and the worst in some teams. Virgil van Dijk will cuddle with his PFA Player of the Year award, whilst Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will take turns to share the Golden Boot as the league’s, and Africa’s, top marksmen.
— Ahmad J Al Nasr (@ajm_alnasr) May 12, 2019
Raheem Sterling made a stand against racism, whilst playing some brilliant football at the same time. Paul Pogba will end the season with the best statistics compared to anyone else in his position, a preview of what he could ultimately become in those dreamy times under Ole Gunnar Solskjær, but the jury is still out on him.
So as the teams recharge and regroup for the start of the 2019-20 season, a lot of questions have been asked, few answers have been provided and lasting solutions must be found. Without City, Liverpool could have been celebrating a long-awaited league triumph. They will come back to fight another day, and have given the rest of the league a lot to think about.
With City and Liverpool creating the new blueprint for the standards that should be followed, the hope is that others will take the challenge to become better in their stride.